McIlroy decision confirms European resurgence
Standing in the early morning checkout queue in our Shanghai hotel was European Tour boss George O'Grady. Another week done, another one beginning. Next stop Singapore.
And one couldn't help feel that he wouldn't need a plane to make the journey. He could do it by his own propulsion - or at the very least through the forces of the body he runs because the European Tour is flying.
Hot on the heels of its players claiming the first five places in the final World Golf Championships tournament of the year came the news that Rory McIlroy will not be renewing his membership of the PGA Tour in the United States.
The exciting Northern Ireland youngster is more than happy for Europe to be his base rather than to follow the spikemarks of among others Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter who make the US their home.
The vast majority of that list have dual membership, but Rose has resigned from the European Tour with the aim of returning to be eligible for the 2012 Ryder Cup.
McIlroy said playing 15 events in the US "wasn't for me". Photo: Getty
By contrast McIlroy is taking a similar view to that of the new world number one Lee Westwood in making sure that he chooses his PGA Tour appearances to suit his schedule rather than having to fulfill the required quota of 15 tournaments Stateside.
"I found myself in America last year, especially in the FedEx Cup play-off series, just not wanting to be there," McIlroy admitted. "I started watching the golf channel and watching the European Masters in Switzerland and thinking to myself I would rather be there.
"Sometimes you feel as though you have to go to America just to play your mandatory 15, and at the start of this year that was something I really wanted to do. But I realised it wasn't for me."
McIlroy doesn't rule out renewing his PGA Tour membership in the future but his decision for 2011 endorses the growing belief that it is quite possible to be a dominant figure in the world game without committing to what remains the most lucrative circuit in golf.
Westwood is living proof, having climbed to the top of the world rankings. So are Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer, who between them won three of the four major titles this year - American Phil Mickelson winning the other (Masters).
McDowell and Oosthuizen are preparing to take their chances as PGA Tour members next year, but Kaymer intends to continue to make Europe his base.
Those players like US Open champion McDowell and Open winner Oosthuizen face a demanding globe-trotting schedule which must include 15 PGA Tour events and 13 on the European circuit.
The fact that Majors and WGC's count on both schedules makes it perfectly possible to satisfy both requirements, but as McIlroy found this season it can also mean playing events you might prefer to miss.
And if every top European committed to the US their native tour would be rendered a largely innocent victim of its own success and vulnerable to negative vibes being generated around golf in Europe.
This is especially the case because US-based Europeans often satisfy their obligations by playing Middle East and Asian tournaments, restricting further the number of times they appear in their home continent.
New rules increasing the requirements to play on European soil will alleviate this problem to a degree and so too do the commitments of McIlroy, Westwood and Kaymer. You can add to them also the name of Francesco Molinari, who leapt to 14th in the world with his victory in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
It was a stunning display from the Italian throughout the four days in China and so too was the performance of Westwood. Leave aside the duffed wedge on the sixteenth hole of his final round because finishing nine shots clear of third place and one behind the winner with the calibre of field that was on show was an extraordinary achievement.
This was from a man who was playing only his second 72-hole strokeplay event since the Open in July, with an inevitable pressure (despite his protestations to the contrary) to show why he is the world number one.
One European Tour official said to me as we left the Sheshan Golf Club that 2010 was probably the best year in the organisation's history. It's a big call, but with three of the four majors going to Tour players and Westwood rising to number one in the world it is hard to argue.
No wonder George O'Grady is smiling and McIlroy is saying thanks but no thanks to the United States.