What are the biggest issues tour players are discussing right now? We found out...
10 Things Tour Pros Are Talking About
We asked five European Tour players, from rookies and winners, what’s on their collective minds…
1 Playing without crowds
It obviously depends on how you’ve arrived at the European Tour but it’s safe to say that it helps some and hinders others, as some players’ results have demonstrated.
One player told us that “95 per cent of players really miss crowds. I know Rory got slated for saying he couldn’t get up for it but I totally see it. It just feels like you’re playing a mini tour event.”
Another rookie had a differing opinion: “I quite liked it as it gave me a chance to get experience of the playing environment without being too overwhelmed with being ‘on tour’. The crowds make it but add to the nerves too.”
Another tour winner added: “I don’t mind it but it was nowhere near as much fun. A big part of the weeks is going to dinner, seeing things and having the buzz of the crowds. Without those things the events felt very flat. Even though we’re still playing for world ranking points and money it made me realise how much I like to ‘entertain’ and getting that applause after a great shot is really nice. Although on the flip side it’s nice when no-one is there when you’re playing crap!”
2 The Bryson effect
There’s plenty of negativity around DeChambeau but, among the pros, there’s plenty of respect for how he’s raised his game in the past year.
While one admitted that there were ‘mixed reviews’ from the players themselves there is an overwhelming appreciation for having the courage to give it a go in such a particular manner.
“I don’t think many are taking the Bryson thing too seriously while I actually am. Wilco on our tour is swinging it at 130 comfortably. I think 120mph was a big deal five years ago, soon that number will be 130. And there’s still miles of room up to the long-drive boys who are at 150! This will get faster and faster.”
Length is crucial and always has been. One shorter hitter told us: “Certain courses suit me more than others and I need to take advantage of those. Other weeks if I finish top 30 then that isn’t bad at all.”
Another added: “I’d say most people like him. From the people I have spoken to, 100 per cent have nothing but respect for what he has done. I suppose we realise just how hard it is to do what he has done, whereas the golf public seem to think he has somehow cheated the system. I played with him a few years ago and he was great. He has remembered me when we have met since then and is always good to chat to. My only gripe would be his pace of play but big name players playing slow and not getting pulled up on it certainly isn’t unusual!”
3 Slow play
A great line on this came from one tour winner – “Like cheating, slow play goes in phrases. It’s not really taken seriously.”
Less than a year ago we heard about little else with four-point plans and then a further enforcement whereby two bad times in a tournament would trigger a one-shot penalty and there being possible time extensions for trickier shots.
The world has changed now and we’re doing well to get these tournaments on but the war on slow play has, understandably, hit the buffers a little.
When we do go back to talking about the length of rounds and whether players are pulling the trigger inside 50 seconds then we’ll know that the world is back to golf normal.
4 Appearance fees
This is something that just happens. The ideal is that certain players will play for nothing and put a bit back into the prize pot but, until the tours get a bit tougher, then it will carry on.
You might think that a Rolex event and all its riches might put a stop to it but it still happens.
Pre the Rolex days the prize fund for Abu Dhabi was always relatively low but then you only had to look at the star names who were being paid vast sums to turn up. Generally speaking players would be being paid two to three times more than the eventual winner.
“That really used to get on players’ nerves, it felt more like a glorified exhibition and the rest of us were playing for the smaller sums. If that wasn’t at the start of the year, players wouldn’t have gone.”
There are always rumours and always will be and, if asked, players would likely point to the same names over a few certain characters though as one player pointed out – “There are more new faces on the tour now and it takes a while to be a famous cheater!“
It’s generally not out-and-out cheating, like altering scorecards, but more the ones who deliberately play slowly or take a dodgy drop to sneak a few yards when they’ve found water.
Or being a bit casual when marking their ball – “That is unforgivable as you can be a 24-handicapper and you know how to mark your ball.”
What also really grates is when a player will knowingly try it on and, reflectively, be handed a two-shot penalty – “Someone will have tried to cheat and they only really get a one-shot penalty as they’ve maybe saved themselves a shot in the process.”
6 The same players getting invites
Otherwise some management groups run tournaments and deals will be done whereby invites are traded for another group’s tournaments though this is maybe less than in previous years with the tour taking hold of more tournaments.
It’s never going to be perfect; occasionally a player will no longer be competitive while other players, who are on the up and trying to make their way, won’t get past being the first reserve.
7 Are categories fair?
Other than winning you can’t improve your category so the likes of Laurie Canter and Marcus Armitage, who both came through Q School at Lumine in 2019 and are now on course to make the top 60 and play in the Tour Championship in Dubai, will start next season with the same Category 17. Obviously their standing in terms of invites will have improved and they get the guaranteed pay day in Dubai but then they will be playing a schedule that could have been very different.
Any other year they would have catapulted themselves into the top half of Category 10.
But, for this year, there is a category labelled ‘Exceptional Performances’ which might get us round this scenario.
This is what the European Tour told us: “A top-110 finish does not itself stand for anything this year, as the membership is not being reset but to reward ‘exceptional’ performance a maximum of three spots* will be held back in each tournament in the 2021 season to exempt the highest-ranked players from the final 2020 Race to Dubai Rankings not otherwise exempt.
* This number will be defined on a week-to-week basis to take account of the structure, status and field size of each tournament. A number of measures will be used to ensure that these spots have absolute minimal impact on the existing 2020 Category structure including maximising field sizes where possible, amending the top 10 Regulation to just the top player from within the top 5 from the preceding tournament and reducing other non-member exemptions wherever possible.”
Related: Is this the start of a world tour?
8 Players are enjoying golf more
If you think that we all missed the game in the initial lockdown then think what it was like for the players and we hear more of them enjoying more social golf.
Laurie Canter has had plenty of success since coming back and he puts part of that down to joining the Wisley this year.
“I’ve played a fair few money games with Richard Bland, James Morrison, Justin Harding and Jordan Smith and had that competitive practice that I’ve really craved when not on Tour. If you play like a donkey, you’re probably filling up their car for the next week. I’m trying to enjoy my golf more and just have a general, relaxed outlook.”
And they’re just like the rest of us in being wary of talking about their own golf too much.
“I consciously try to stay away from talking too much golf but inevitably it happens. We obviously don’t give each other shot by shots but anything out of the ordinary good or bad gets brought up. Fellow players having head offs is usually good fun to update each other on!”
As for the 2021 schedule the players are as in the dark as everyone else.
“We start in Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, then Saudi. After that I have no idea. I’ve heard that they are trying to do another UK swing. I’d imagine we will see a few more ‘swings’ where we stay in one place for a few weeks. I think Keith will have a tough job putting a good schedule together but he did amazingly this year.”
9 What about the end-of-year bonuses?
There is talk that some manufacturers will pay a player’s yearly retainer based on what category the player will start the 2021 season but, unless a player wins, then that can’t change. So you might have a player who makes it to Dubai, and has received plenty of exposure in recent months, but he won’t see much benefit off the course.
“Some manufacturers will show what they’re about and take it it as an opportunity not to up a player’s money and that might lead to some players moving around,” explained one European Tour member.
At the top end of the game there’s plenty of money flying around for new deals but you won’t have to go too far down the standings before things tighten up a lot.
10 And finally…. money
It seems churlish to even talk about money but this is professional golf so here we go.
Since coming back from lockdown the European Tour have featured a large collection of tournaments that have a prize fund of €1m, a similar low-tier event on the PGA Tour would offer a purse of $6.6m.
It’s been a year like no other as the European Tour’s chief executive Keith Pelley explained: “We created 15 tournaments from scratch this year while founding a £3m health strategy – I don’t think that it would be possible for a business that did not have robust finances.”
But in Europe once you are down to, for example, a share of 8th spot you will be struggling to pick up €20,000, in the States you are nudging $200k. Away from the Rolex weeks the gulf is extraordinary.
“I think the Rolex events are a miracle and that we’re playing for $7m. We all really hope that they keep it going, it’s also raised the stakes of some great tournaments and highlighted some good courses. If they still need to have appearance money to get necessary players in the field, keep Rolex happy and improve the world ranking points available then that’s fair enough,” explained one tour winner.
Now we have a ‘strategic alliance’ with the PGA Tour so the initial hope is that this will bring a more global appeal and therefore bigger purses.
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