Joint award is just reward
The European Tour's prestigious Golfer of the Year title is to be shared for the first time, with the award going jointly to US Open champion Graeme McDowell and PGA winner Martin Kaymer.
Golf does not like fudges but on this occasion the panel of judges made up of representatives of all sections of the golfing media could not separate the two Ryder Cup men, who both claimed debut major crowns in 2010.
Kaymer's US PGA success at Whistling Straits was one of four Tour titles that helped the German win the season-long Race to Dubai.
McDowell claimed three victories and also held his nerve brilliantly to steer Europe home to a single-point win in October's Ryder Cup.
McDowell won the US Open in June by one shot from Gregory Havret. Photo: Getty Images
The decision to make it a joint award had been taken before McDowell claimed victory at the 18-man Chevron Challenge in California at the weekend. The Northern Ireland man overhauled a four-shot deficit to beat Tiger Woods at the first hole of a play-off.
Some may say this unprecedented move is a cop out. The sport doesn't often do draws and plenty still mutter about the controversial decision to allow Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie to share the Volvo Masters title when darkness fell after two extra holes of a sudden-death play-off in 2002.
To make it possible for two players, even great Ryder Cup allies like Montgomerie and Langer, to share a prestigious title was always going to be contentious. "I don't think we'd want to let that happen again," one leading Tour referee told me only last week.
But the circumstances surrounding the 2010 Golfer of the Year award are somewhat different. McDowell and Kaymer emerged from a shortlist that also included world number one Lee Westwood and Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.
Ultimately, ankle injuries robbed both Westwood and Oosthuizen of the chance to press their claims even further, while the weight of victories enjoyed by the joint recipients set them apart.
But separating Kaymer and McDowell is difficult given their achievements in 2010.
Statistically, Kaymer edged McDowell in almost every category - more tournaments won, more prize money earned and higher world ranking. He also finished number one in the Race to Dubai.
But what about the cache McDowell gained by becoming the first European to win a US Open for 40 years and the extraordinary role he played in winning the Ryder Cup?
Both players scored 2.5 points at Celtic Manor, although Kaymer rarely showed his best form over the four days in Wales. McDowell nursed Rory McIlroy through his debut and held off Hunter Mahan in the final singles to give Europe victory.
McDowell's birdie at the 16th that put him two up with two to play in that match will go down as one of the greatest threes ever achieved in a Ryder Cup. He was the outstanding hero among heroes in Montgomerie's team. How do you quantify the value of McDowell's contribution in Wales?
Just three hundredths of a stroke separated them in the season-long stroke average, with Kaymer recording 70.04 to McDowell's 70.07, while McDowell edged the putts in GIR stat, 1.756 to 1.755.
Kaymer won the US PGA in controversial fashion. Photo: Getty Images
These figures illustrate perfectly why it is so hard to favour one over the other.
Furthermore, both McDowell and Kaymer are supreme ambassadors for their sport. McDowell is as eloquent, honest and entertaining as they come, while the 25-year-old Kaymer performs his media duties with a maturity and elan beyond his years in both German and English.
"Graeme and I pretty much had the same level of success this season in terms of the majors and on the European Tour," Kaymer acknowledged. "He deserves this recognition as much as I do.
"His winning match in the Ryder Cup was huge for all of Europe and for both of us now to make history in terms of sharing this award represents a very proud moment for both our families and shows how strong European golf is right now."
Kaymer also gave the Tour a huge boost by announcing that he sees no reason to take up PGA Tour membership in 2011. McDowell is looking to play both tours next year but has already hinted he will make Europe his base in 2012 because it is a Ryder Cup year.
Reacting to the joint decision, the 31-year-old from Portrush said: "It is an honour to share this award with a player of Martin's calibre. He is one of the best players of our generation and I am sure will enjoy many more successes in the years to come."
This has been a stellar season for the European Tour. It provided the winners of three of the four majors as well as the man who succeeded Tiger Woods as world number one.
The unprecedented decision to make a shared award helps reflect the extraordinary nature of this amazing golfing year. It is not a fudge or a cop out, rather the right way to reflect what has happened on the European Tour in 2010.
The Players' Player accolade has still to be decided, the result of which will not be known for some time. The voting from an electorate comprising the Tour's golfers will be as fascinating as it will be difficult to predict.