Wednesday 26 April 2017

€uro tour the poor relation of U$ PGA

Gary Woodland celebrates by kissing the trophy after winning the Transitions Championship in Florida on Sunday. Photo: AP
Gary Woodland celebrates by kissing the trophy after winning the Transitions Championship in Florida on Sunday. Photo: AP

Amid all the tub-thumping and horn-tooting for European golf, let's get something straight: when it comes to financial clout, the US PGA Tour weighs in at super-heavy, making its European counterpart look like a useful light-welter.

For sure, European Tour members have been punching brilliantly above their weight on the golf course recently. They currently hold three of the four Major titles and, after last September's heroics at Celtic Manor, the Ryder Cup is back where it belongs.

Right now, the top four players in the world rankings all hail from Europe and the leading two, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood, plus No 8 Rory McIlroy, have seen no need to apply for US PGA Tour membership in 2011.

Back in 1992, of course, Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal, Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer were the world's top five. Yet there were no other Europeans in the top-20 back then and a tally of 10 in the elite top-50 was dwarfed by 29 representing the US.

At present, Europeans, including Portrush's world No 4 Graeme McDowell, outnumber US golfers by six to four in the top-10 and by 18 to 16 in the top-50. Clearly, European golf has never had it so good.

The opportunity to hone their skills in a wide array of playing conditions around the planet has helped the European Tour's finest to become well-rounded competitors.

And with nearly 40pc of US Tour cards currently held by international players, teeing it up in America no longer induces culture shock. Instead, European stars firmly believe they can win on any given Sunday in the States.

Reality

However, the spectacular success of Europe's players cannot obscure reality. Our stars may be rising on the fairways but, in financial terms, the European Tour is involved, year by year, in such a dogged hand-to-mouth battle for survival that it offers no threat to its US counterpart.

Texan Gary Woodland collected a cheque for $900,000 at the climax to the Transitions Championship on Sunday as he became the third first-time winner on the PGA Tour this season, while the overall prize fund at The Copperhead was $5.5m.

By comparison, Raphael Jacquelin of France pocketed little more than a quarter of that amount -- €166,660 ($235,947) -- after wrapping up a one-stroke victory over Anthony Wall as the inaugural Sicilian Open concluded yesterday morning.

Once again this week, a modest €1m ($1.416m) purse on offer at the Open de Andalucia in Malaga will be dwarfed by the $6m prize fund at Arnie Palmer's Invitational in Bay Hill.

Excluding the Majors and World Golf Championships, the US and European Tours will both stage 43 tournaments in 2011, with $219m to be played for at the American events and $117m on Europe's worldwide international roster.

Indeed, that European figure is no more than a 'guesstimation' as details for several events, notably August's Irish Open, have yet to be confirmed.

Emboldened by bumper crowds which turned up at Killarney last summer, the Tour nobly has agreed to underwrite the prize fund for the ailing Irish event in the absence of a title-sponsor -- they're currently talking in terms of a minimum €1.5m purse.

Even at the top end, European Tour chiefs have endured anxious moments in the three-year existence of the Race to Dubai and the season-ending Dubai World Championship as the struggling Emirate teetered on the brink of a financial crisis.

While the US Tour occasionally must carry an old favourite through hard times, notably the Bob Hope, their resources are so vast in comparison to Europe that they don't have to sweat as much blood simply to get the show on the road each year.

For example, as they prepare to negotiate a new contract with networks CBS and NBC, the US Tour is confident it can strike a deal as favourable as the one (worth an estimated $2bn-plus over six years) which expires at the end of 2012 -- despite a marked decline in viewing figures for golf in recent years.

You see, the PGA Tour offers the networks a lot more than a well-heeled audience for golf on TV. Through their special media and marketing arm in New York, the PGA Tour recruits tournament sponsors and other corporate partners willing to purchase up to 75pc of advertising time generated on the networks by coverage of their events.

So the networks effectively are assured of making a profit from broadcasting PGA Tour golf before a viewer hits the 'on' switch.

Other major US and international sports organisations offer similar incentives but, as one senior NBC executive put it, the PGA Tour is simply "the best" when it comes to "understanding the needs of the television network".

Of the $8m the PGA Tour requires from its average tournament title sponsor, roughly half goes towards the media 'buy' with the network that broadcasts the tournament and the other half goes into the event itself, mostly the purse.

In these recessionary times, it is difficult enough for the European Tour just to find sponsors capable of stumping up a decent prize fund, they usually are in no position to make further demands.

Also, over the past three decades the PGA Tour has built up a huge, multi-million dollar retirement plan for its members, something which others cannot even dream of offering.

Yes, Europe's elite currently are shooting for the stars. However, the perilous state of the Irish Open and a sketchy spring schedule -- which offers just three tournaments (Sicily, the Open de Andalucia and next week's Trophee Hassan II) to ordinary members in the eight-week stretch up to next month's Malaysian Open -- expose the harsh financial reality which lies behind this heady success.



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