Blog 332, 10/20/15 - Should Poulter's Dash to Hong Kong Have Been Necessary?

ian poulter
"I have to go where??!!"
In order to be eligible for Team Europe, a player has to own European Tour membership which means playing a minimum of 13 European Tour events. Of course, the US majors and US-held WGC tournaments count on both Tours which means players like Poulter, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia can base themselves in the US for much of the season and get by with just a handful of trips across the Atlantic.
Poulter was ranked 46th in the world last week and, as such, in the field for the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai to be played November 5-8. He was banking on adding the HSBC to the 12 events he has played on the European Tour in 2015, and therefore meeting his quota. But he slipped to World No. 51 this week thus falling out of the HSBC field for which the world's top 50 on October 19th qualify. Unable to meet his European Tour attendance requirement, Poulter would not have been able to play at Hazeltine National next year in the event for which he is best known and which clearly brings out the best (golf) in him.
Hence the quick change of schedule (and he was only able to play in Hong Kong after Rich Beem, 2002 PGA Chamnpionship winner - at Hazeltine ironically, gave up his spot in the field).
The European Tour obviously wants its global superstars to play more often in Europe, or rather, on the European Tour wherever around the world it shows up - but ideally in continental Europe where its most historic and best-attended events take place (it's better for the Tour if the action can be viewed by a healthy TV audience at a decent hour of the day, rather than by a very limited number of golf addicts who set their alarms to watch a tournament in far-east Asia at dawn on a Sunday morning.)
Announcing a Ryder Cup team whose players had spent the majority of the year in America playing on the PGA Tour would certainly lose the Wentworth, England-headquartered European Tour significant credibility. Actually, it's not even a case of 'would' - it already does lose the European Tour significant credibility.
Of the 12 players that made up the European side at Gleneagles in 2014, six played more official events on the PGA Tour that year than European.
In 2014, McIlroy played 17 PGA Tour tournaments and 14 European, but he teed it up on the Continent just five times. More (6) of his official European Tour starts took place in the US than Continental Europe. Poulter's numbers were much the same - 17 PGA Tour events, 14 European of which six were in the US and only four on the Continent. Same with Justin Rose - 19 PGA Tour events, 13 European of which only three were held in the western European countries where the Tour first became established and where the majority of fans live.
Only Thomas Bjorn (24-9), Jamie Donaldson (23-12), Stephen Gallacher (25-12) and Victor Dubuisson (21-10) played significantly more European Tour events than PGA Tour.
Whether or not players who want to turn out for Europe at the Ryder Cup should play more often than they do in their own continent is a thorny issue that strongly divides the players and officials. The players want to play regularly against the best fields in the world which, as a rule, means heading to the US. There's a good deal more money on offer there too, of course.
But officials want these players demonstrating their skills in front of their home fans, so they understandably force certain stipulations, effectively saying that if these players plan on representing Europe at the Ryder Cup then they should play more often in the place that gave them their start.
It's sounds like a legitimate, reasonable, justified, and highly defensible position.
But where qualification for the Ryder Cup is concerned, surely it shouldn't even be part of the debate. Samuel Ryder donated his famous trophy in the days long before professional tours and even longer before international diplomacy issues arose between those tours. The first staging of the Ryder Cup occurred between two teams that barely knew each other. And no one in the GB & Ireland team lived in their opponents' country certainly, or based themselves in America to take advantage of financial opportunities.
Ryder gave his blessing to a team matchplay event in which the best players from Europe took on the best players from the US (be it ten or 12). Simple as that. Where today's players play the majority of their golf should therefore not be a factor in determining his eligibility for the Ryder Cup. It is not a contest between the European and PGA Tours. If it was, McIlroy could conceivably play for the PGA Tour along with Australia's Jason Day, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, and possibly last week's winner Argentina's Emiliano Grillo, as well as a handful of actual Americans - Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, etc.
The European Tour team, meanwhile, might feature Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, India's Anirban Lahiri, Korea's An Byeong Hun, and the US's Brooks Koepka.
That might be interesting I suppose, but it would be like another Presidents Cup to clutter an already absurdly hectic schedule. For the foreseeable future (and hopefully long after that), let's retain Sam Ryder's original vision - the best players from Europe (by birth), against the best players from the United States (by birth). Let them go at each other for a few days, award the cup to the winning team, and then everyone meet in the clubhouse lounge for a few pink gins and a merry cheer all round.
Capital idea, what?

(picture: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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