The Rolex Series was created to attract stronger fields to the European Tour and raise the profile of the circuit. Has it managed to do it?
Has The Rolex Series Been A Success?
Eight events in eight countries with $57,500,000 of prize money on offer – the Rolex Series was designed as a shot in the arm for the European Tour. The aim was to lift the prestige and draw of the tournaments involved and the circuit itself: more money, meaning stronger fields and so increased interest and excitement across the board. Looking back at this year, the second season of the Rolex Series, has it delivered on those objectives?
The European Tour’s flagship tournament and the first Rolex Series event of this year, The BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, produced a worthy winner in Francesco Molinari, who would go on to win The Open Championship, star in the Ryder Cup and ultimately be crowned Europe’s No.1 for 2018. But the field wasn’t any stronger than in years past, and it didn’t look great that Europe’s top-ranked player, Justin Rose, was busy winning the Fort Worth Invitational on the PGA Tour the same week.
The Italian, French, Scottish and Irish Opens have certainly been boosted by the involvement of Rolex and each has seen better fields and heightened public interest as a result. They have been a strong success.
The final three events of the Rolex Series in Turkey, South Africa and Dubai all produced exciting competition and popular winners in Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and Danny Willett. There were a lot of positives, but there were also some issues with the conclusion that might give the European Tour pause for thought.
The points system of the Race to Dubai doesn’t guarantee an exciting finish to the season and this year we didn’t get one. Going into the DP World Tour Championship, only Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood could win the year-long competition, and neither were able to produce their best golf at Jumeirah Golf Estates. Fleetwood needed to win to have any chance of catching the Italian and he couldn’t get the necessary putts to drop. Molinari was visibly exhausted after his fabulous efforts through the year. In the end, he cruised in, anti-climactically, well before the tournament reached its denouement with little fanfare and basically no drama.
Recent changes to the points system for 2019 have been made, but they are not intended to impact the leaders of the Race to Dubai. The European Tour should perhaps look at the FedExCup Playoffs for inspiration. Going into the season-ending Tour Championship on the PGA Tour, any player in the field could, theoretically, win the big prize. That made for constant excitement through the week as projected placings changed continuously. The European Tour needs something similar to generate greater tension.
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Strength of fields
What’s more, the three season-ending Rolex Series events didn’t perhaps attract such strong fields as the European Tour might have hoped, and there are reasons for that.
Many of the top players were competing in the final WGC event of the year in Shanghai the week prior to the first of the closing three events in Turkey. That meant, in the space of just three weeks, to play in all of the final Rolex Series events, a player would have to have covered a total of 13,261 miles – from China to Turkey, South Africa and then Dubai. That’s a tough ask for even these most hardened travellers.
And that tiring itinerary came at the very end of a very long year for the majority of the top stars of the European Tour. Most of the highest-ranked golfers had played a full season already: the Majors, the WGC events, the FedExCup and possibly the Ryder Cup. Then, without a break, they were asked to go straight into the end of the Rolex Series.
Many just hadn’t got enough left in the tank to do it. Justin Rose could only manage one of the three (The Turkish Airlines Open, which he won), Tommy Fleetwood missed the Nedbank Golf Challenge, despite having a chance to narrow the gap at the top of the Race to Dubai standings, and eventual winner Molinari played only in the DP World Tour Championship. Only two of Europe’s Ryder Cup-winning team competed in South Africa.
Next year should see an improvement, though, because of scheduling changes. The PGA Tour has shifted the FedExCup Playoffs forward so all will be finished by the end of August. That will give the top players a chance to take a break before the European Tour moves towards its conclusion. The BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth has shifted to mid-September, the Italian Open to October and then the three concluding events in November. There should be clear opportunity for the very best golfers to rest up and head into those events fresh and ready.
The Rolex Series has been a success, but there is clear room for improvement. If the European Tour can tweak the points system to encourage greater excitement and uncertainty to the very end, then the Rolex Series can develop and we could be in for stellar seasons on the European circuit going forward.
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