Professional Golf Faces Further Fragmentation

First it was Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy. Now Ian Poulter apparently will join the ranks of European golf stars who will not play as members of the PGA Tour. There’s still quite a bit of overlap, with the Majors and the World Golf Championships, as well as the few events for which they’ll get a sponsor’s exemption, but for the most part, these stars will spend their time in Europe.

And why not? The money on the European tour is very good, as is the money from endorsements. They can get appearance money. And they’ll be closer to home. Top to bottom, I don’t know that the European Tour is as good, but that actually works to the benefit of the top players. And keeping the stars happy is good for the European Tour and its Race To Dubai.

On the other hand, it’s a bit of a black eye for the PGA Tour. Westwood is the world’s number one, while Kaymer is in striking distance. Facing rejection from these players makes the future of the much maligned (and in my humble opinion, deservedly so) FedEx Cup. The Cup is up for renegotiation this next year and surely will not have the same luster for its sponsors.

I’m not sure that anything at all could be done to convince these players to tee it up on the US Tour. McIlroy apparently suffers from homesickness. Westwood has his family in England. I’m sure Kaymer and Poulter have similar reasons. They’re at home and they’re making a terrific living, so why add the hassle of transatlantic flights?

As golf continues to become a global game, I think further fragmentation is the future. I predict that we shall soon see a day when a larger Asian-Pacific Tour will be a viable third option for players (yes, I know there’s already such a thing, but it’s not a viable option at present). Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, etc. money can easily fund attractive purses and offer appearance money. And I don’t think there’d be any lack of sponsorships. Once that’s established, players from that part of the planet will be able to stay at home and make great money also.

The process, I think, will further accelerate with the addition of golf as an Olympic Sport. There will be a lot of nations with golf development programs, and the graduates of those programs will want to play close to home.

The winner in all of this will be the World Golf Championship tournaments. I see those as being the only places where you’ll get a truly international cast. The losers will be the PGA Tour, and to some extent the traditional Majors. Who’s to say that the Masters, PGA Championship and US Open are really any more important than the European PGA or Masters—or a future Asian Masters, etc. The Open Championship, as golf’s original championship, I think will continue its importance undiminished.

 

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