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Has The European Tour Lost Its Way?




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News Analysis: When Collin Morikawa became the first American to win the Race to Dubai as the top “European” golfer of the year at the DP World Tour Championship, it represented the final indignity for the once proud, formerly self-titled European Tour, writes Louis Auge.

Faced with dwindling tournament purses and an exodus of their best players to the United States, the once venerable Euro Tour has, in the span of four months, entered into a previously unthinkable partnership with its chief rivals at the PGA Tour, joined their new PGA Tour partners in threatening to ban players for competing on rival tours, sold off its naming rights to a Dubai-based logistics company, and crowned a season-long European champion who not only plays full-time in the United States, but competed in just two events on European soil all season.

It seems that the European Tour -- or the DP World Tour -- has not only lost its name, but its identity.

No less than the New York Times recently asked “what it means if a golfer from the United States wins the European championship?” I think the more appropriate question is, how has the standard bearer of European golf – the circuit that produced legends like Seve and Monty and Faldo and who built a tour that dominated the Americans in the Ryder Cup for over thirty years – fallen so far so fast?

In his comments to the Times, Euro Tour CEO Keith Pelley, who now appears to be carrying water for the PGA Tour, appears just as befuddled as anyone. “Our tours were vertically integrated,” Pelley said. “Now they’re horizontally integrated, and it’s a significant difference. What does that mean in the long run? That’s the $1 million question. I can’t emphatically give you an answer.” It’s hard to imagine this kind of muddled answer inspires any kind of confidence in leadership among European professional golfers.

While the alleged strategic alliance was supposed to create bigger purses and more playing opportunities for Euro pros, what does the current structure say to a European player like Sweden’s Alexander Bjork, who was loyal to his home tour, playing in 23 European Tour events across the continent and the Middle East in 2021, only to watch an American and full-time PGA Tour member like Morikawa collect the $3 million Race to Dubai first place bonus after playing in just two events in Scotland and two in Dubai? If that isn’t a slap in the face to European players, it’s hard to imagine what would be.

To be clear, this is not at all a criticism of Morikawa. He is clearly one of the rising stars in global golf and played in the tournaments he was allowed to. It certainly didn’t hurt his case that he won two of the four European Tour events he played in, including the Open Championship. But by the same token, many of his Euro ranking points were earned playing in PGA Tour events in the United States. Given that, it’s difficult to not reach the conclusion that the PGA Tour has walked away from this lopsided “partnership” with a 15 percent ownership stake in the European Tour while securing a path for its players to have a better shot at DP World Tour bonus payouts.


Perhaps what is most troubling about the unprecedented alliance between the American and European circuits is how it further consolidates stewardship of the game under the umbrella of the PGA Tour, whose goal is to make the United States the epicenter of global golf and the arbiter of where and when the best players compete around the world, effectively shutting out governing bodies and fans in places like Australia and Asia from having any say at all.

Unfortunately, the former Euro Tour has been all too willing do the bidding of their wealthier former rivals in the States. For example, earlier this year, the PGA Tour threatened to ban players for life if they competed on a rival tour or played in a non-PGA Tour sanctioned event. Unsurprisingly, the European Tour took up a similar position in a recently leaked memo to players, dissolving Europe’s more than twenty year partnership with the Asian Tour, eliminating co-sanctioned events and essentially barring European players from playing Asian Tour events, and vice versa. The move was seen as a direct reaction to the $200 million investment of Aussie Greg Norman’s LIV Golf initiative into the Asian Tour.

These stances, which are clearly attempts by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour to protect their own self-interests over those of the players they represent, will be put to the test in the coming months now that two-dozen of the best players from both sides of the Atlantic have committed to playing in February’s Saudi International, a former European Tour event that is now a flagship event on the Asian Tour. Pelley and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan have a month to decide if they will allow players like Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, and two dozen other global stars to compete in Riyadh, or if they will fine or even ban them.

For a circuit that claims that its guiding principles are being “innovative, inclusive, and global,” it’s difficult to see how threatening to fine and ban players while abandoning arguably the world’s fastest growing golf market and largest reservoir of up and coming talent in Asia accomplishes any of those objectives. Moreover, there are also questions about the legal basis for threats of bans and for the potential denial of playing waivers from both the PGA and European Tours.

Legal experts have openly questioned whether any Tour has the legal footing to ban players given that golfers are independent contractors who have the right to ply their trade wherever they see fit.  Not only could player bans run afoul of U.S. antitrust and worker’s rights laws, but it could also cause American lawmakers to look more closely into the PGA Tour’s tax-exempt status given its non-profit mission to “promote professional golf.” In other words, it’s hard to argue that you are promoting the best interests of your players while you are simultaneously banning those same players for looking out for their best interests.

Virtually all the coverage of Morikawa’s victory in Dubai has focused on celebrating his being the first American to conquer Europe. But in reality, his win is a sad final chapter of the European Tour and further evidence that Euro Tour are fully complicit in the PGA Tour’s mission to dominate global golf, promote American players around the world, and threaten to ban anyone who stands in their way.

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