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McIlroy decision confirms European resurgence

Iain Carter | 06:55 UK time, Tuesday, 9 November 2010

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.

Molinari held off the world number one Westwood for his win. Photo: Getty

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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Home is where the heart is and McIlroy's heart is clearly in Ireland. His head might have led him to a different decision but he is still very young and could make the decision to spend time on the world's most competitive tour, in the US, in a few years time. American players are at a low at the moment and so all the more reason to go over, get the experience, grow as a player and, while the getting is good, fill yer boots!

  • Comment number 2.

    Good on you Rory, following your heart and staying close to everything that is important to you at the moment. Great example. It would be so easy to give in to the pressures and demands of others, sponsors etc and stay on the PGA Tour and I think #1 post is right that in a few years time, your circumstances will be different and you might want to move to Orlando and take a proper crack at the PGA Tour then.

    That would be about the same stage in life that Ian Poulter headed over and he seems to be loving every minute.

    Best of luck in 2011 wee mon.

  • Comment number 3.

    Great decision, Rory. You're young, perfect your game over here and then you can still go to the States. And frankly, the competition over here at the moment is a bit better to.

  • Comment number 4.

    just one comment, rory is from northern ireland

  • Comment number 5.

    In reply to 2spud8, the BBC Sport piece (go to quotes McIlroy as saying, "Holly has another two years at university and we have two dogs, a nice house and I love my life back in Ireland. I don't ever want to give that up." I just went with his description which one can interpret as being geographical rather than political if one so chooses.

  • Comment number 6.

    Embarking on a PGA Tour commitment during a Ryder Cup year was always going to be difficult.
    But, Graeme McDowell and Poulter (and McIlroy and Westwood should they so choose) can kick off their year with two events in Hawaii and revert to a normal schedule, especially if they are prepared to pick and choose the FedEx events while sacrifice a realistic shot at the Tour Championship and FedEx bonus bounty. 15 events will not be a challenge for them.
    I had thought Kaymer was still "undecided"? Scheduled to make a decision during the Chevron benefit.
    Iain, Does Woods's lifetime PGA Tour membership exempt him from having to play 15 tournaments? If not, why is the Media so quiet on this issue??

  • Comment number 7.

    #4 and #5 Keep Politics out of sport. I myself am Brirish!

    Agree with the posts, sounds like he's got a good head on his shoulders. Let's not forget that he won a tournament over there so if there ever was a "mystique" about playing in the US he has blown it out of the water.

    Good blog Iain, it's much more interesting when you choose more obscure subjects.

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree with sportmadgav, no need to bring up politics, that's just a stupid comment. Fair play to Rory anyway, and good blog!

  • Comment number 9.

    The rise of the Europeans, sounds like the title of a film, but back in the good old 1980's this was a very familiar theme. We all remember the golfing prowess of Ballesteros, Faldo, Lyle, Woosnam, Langer and Olazabal and now it seems as if it repeating itself with the likes of Westwood, McDowell, Kaymer, Harrington, Casey, Poulter, Donald, Rose, the Molinari's and of course, McIlroy. You just get the feeling that the next 5 years or so are going to be very intersting indeed. Just how many majors will they win? (Westwood must win at least one, shouldn't he?)

    And the US? Well, though it's premature to write Tiger off, he's definitely lost his mojo. He's no longer that sure fire bet that everyone else has to beat. Sure, he'll win again, but I don't see him dominating like before. The PGA tour know this on the quiet and I was very intersted in the fact that they sanctioned their first tour event outside the US in Asia the week before the HSBC Champions. Very interesting.

    I think the PGA tour, for all its might is just, well- same old, same old, while the European Tour has embraced changes and developed radidly during the noughties. Is it not conceivable that a major US player, might just commit to the European tour before too long? Not sure, but I would happily have a little wager on it with someone.

    Anyway, it's nice to see the Big Guns back on our side of the Atlantic and I'm sure it'll be making Sevy chuckle!!!

  • Comment number 10.

    Just a quick one regarding the quotation about loving his life in ireland, you can actually hear the interview on the BBC website and he clearly says that he loves his life in "Northern Ireland". The original quotation was therefore inaccurate.

  • Comment number 11.

    In reality I don't think there will be much of a difference, McIlroy will still play in the USA around 10 or so times (at a guess) only difference being he won't play those lesser tournaments to retain 'membership' to qualify for the Fed Ex Cup.

    I think he's made a good decision, I wish Sergio would follow suit, I'm sure he would turn his form around back in Europe.

    P.S. Rose and Donald have young families in USA so it's only natural they would base themselves there, likewise Westwood staying in Europe.

  • Comment number 12.

    gw, is pretty adamant that Rory will only be eligible to play ten events in 2011, presumably the 4 x Majors, 3 x WGC's and three others, perhaps Players, Quail Hollow and one other. (Their article on this also classifies Westwood in the same category though I can't think that is correct.)
    But something for Sergio (and Poulter etc) to think about if they were to consider resigning their Tour membership. Hell hath no fury like a Finchem scorned, and all that!

  • Comment number 13.

    These guys make so much money on either tour that even the PGA tour whilst the more lucrative is unattractive in several ways.

    1. Some of the courses are diabolical. I live here in the USA and the state of some of the courses compared to the fruitful European Tour courses is one major benefit. The Alps, Scottish Highlands, Mediteranean or Asia! Compared to a hot, muggy, swamp in Mississippi, Desert in Arizona or yawn Wisconsin/Minnesota (Whistling straits is nice though!). My point is that I think Europe has more attractive events and more range. Cog Hill in Illinois a couple of months back was a mess for example.

    2. Having to compete in 15 events is ludacris when you are from Europe. How many Americans play on European Tour! I know Anthony Kim likes Europe and John Daly has spent some time with the Euro Tour but all in all it is less regulated. I can see what Rory Means by "at the end of the year I didn't want to be there".

    3. Whilst more money is up for grabs on PGA tour there is also more to do. I think the European tour is more relaxed, they take more care of the players, the staff and the organisation is very good. Lee Westwood is #1 for goodness sake and is a multi-millionnaire. I don't think money is an issue for these guys like it is in other sports. Monty made millions and did great on the Euro Tour. He would have been #1 had he won a major or two. ;-(

    4. Most important is family. Lots of these guys like Casey, Rose and Donald all went on scholarship to University in the states and now many more people. Have American wifes and children. This is a big issue for the European tour. With no Scholarship system like that in Europe it is tough to keep them. McIlroy didn't do that. He is a straight, young product of NI. He can stay closer to family and his base with friends. He will be maybe happier. Donald, Rose and Casey all are happy stateside as Brits who have family there. Lawrie, Monty etc etc all did the same playing in the USA before hand.

    We have 6 of the top 10 players in the world and I hope Lee or Martin hold onto the top spots. I think there is more to come from this crop of Euro Players and it is great to see!!! Golf in Europe is great. Golf in the USA is terrible as all they care about it Tiger and his fall from grace has made this a bad year for the Americans coupled with a Ryder Cup loss.

    Long live European Golf!

  • Comment number 14.

    Cheers kwini, wasn't aware of the 10 rule for 'resignees'. Seems very strange and rather like they're shooting themselves in the foot, but can't think it will bother Rory all that much.

  • Comment number 15.

    So Little Mac has decided the land of Big Macs is not for him. Can't say I blame him...

  • Comment number 16.

    Objectively looking at this, I see Rory as a little I'll equipped to handle the rigor of the US Tour. Let's not Roget he missed 7 cuts on the US tour this year. Might be he is not ready to take on the deeper field that the US Tour offers. As to European tour resurgence, I am not so sure that is just a mirage right now. The fact remains that sponsorship money drives these tours. If the fans don't show up in the events, these Asian events will eventually dry up. It is great to see the top Europeans are doing well with the rankings. But that has more to do with more of the top Europeans play the bigger events on both tours than their US counterparts. Had the top ten ranked US players play as many non-US events as the Europeans do, they would have garnered more ranking points and naturally ranked higher. The ranking points depends a lot on the participants current rankings, which leads to a vicious cycle of bubble effect on ranking points. For instance, Padric Harrinton has fared very badly in the last year or two, but because of his higher rankings achieved previously, he is still considered a great player and the events heenters gets more ranking points then. Regular tour event. When in fact, some of the lesser know tour events is much more competitive than say this Chevon World Challenge of the Nedbank garbage.

    Anyway, I am an avid golf fan and just wanted to throw this out for everyone to think about. I think until both euro and US PGA come to their senses and organize a mutual tour, like a world tour, there will be no significant growth in the golf in the next ten years. We need to have a similar arrangement like football, having a premier tour and then some regular continental tours, with the best players playing in the big events heads up. Wouldn't it be nice to have Westwood go up against Woods every weekend. That would be fun to see if LW can hold up under some serious pressure.

    I guess I just opened another can of worms. I just think Lee still needs to prove himself that he can hold up udder major pressure on a Sunday. Last time he had the chance he wilted and couldn't hit his fairways. He is bit better and more confident now. So I hope he goes after Tiger and Phil the next time and get it done.


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