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 ROBERT GREEN
 Another Thing

Some abroad thoughts from home
The European Tour’s move away from Europe, especially the UK, is surely permanent…as may be Tom Lewis’s presence on leaderboards all around the world following his remarkable breakthrough

A quiz question. What do the following countries represent? South Africa, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Dubai, India, United States, Spain, Morocco, Italy, United States (again), Malaysia, China, South Korea. Answer – countries more likely than the United Kingdom to win the next Eurovision Song Contest? No – they’re the countries, in order, that will host the golf tournaments in the first four months of the 2012 European Tour.

It has long been accepted that the European Tour stages several events outside Europe, and for good reason – inter alia, it enables the Tour to organise a full and lucrative schedule for its members whereas sticking only to Europe would pretty much deprive it of any events between November and mid- March. And the Tour’s policy of expansion, usually in liaison with the other tours whose territories they are impacting, has made it the first mover in an increasingly international world. In other words, it stole a march on the PGA Tour.

If the opinions of most economic- and social-development experts are to be believed (or at least assuming they’re more on the ball than the majority of the so-called financial analysts have been over the past two or three years), being the first partner to engage with the growth of professional golf in the Far East has been a sound strategy.

From a parochial perspective, of course, there has been a downside. It is likely that in 2012 there will only be five tournaments held in Great Britain: the PGA Championship, the Wales Open, the Scottish Open, the Open Championship and the Dunhill Links Championship.

However, even without the extraordinarily cosmopolitan evolution of the European Tour, adding tournaments in the UK looks to be a difficult proposition at present. Last year we drew attention to Sergio Garcia making the Open Championship his only UK appearance because of the way in which HMRC levies taxes on players’ worldwide sponsorship income. Rafael Nadal has said he won’t play at Queen’s Club ahead of Wimbledon next year for the same reason; likewise Usain Bolt didn’t run at Crystal Palace last summer. And nothing is likely to change on this any time soon. As a government spokesman told the Sunday Times: “Giving tax breaks to millionaire sportsmen is not a priority in the current climate.” It’s hard to argue with that.

IT WILL BE DISAPPOINTING FOR EUROPEAN GOLF IF NEXT YEAR

Rory McIlroy plays more in the States than over here. But as he prepares to exit stage west, at least for a while, European golf discovers another young former Walker Cup player whose star seems to be inexorably on the rise. In the case of Tom Lewis, ‘former Walker Cup player’ means that as recently as September 11 he was celebrating GB&I beating the USA at Royal Aberdeen. On October 16, he was celebrating his personal victory in the Portugal Masters. It was only his third start as a pro. Even Tiger Woods took five goes to manage that; McIlroy a laggardly 38. From being a key player in the 2011 Walker Cup, the win put Lewis in third place in the points table for the 2012 Ryder Cup.

The 20-year-old from Welwyn Garden City sprang to national attention in the Open at Sandwich in July, when his opening round of 65 was not only the lowest ever returned in the championship by an amateur, it tied him for the lead. The 65 he fired to finish with at Vilamoura included birdies at five of the last seven holes. After two holes of the second round, he had been five shots off the pace required to make the cut. From Tour School candidate to World Golf Championship competitor with just one weekend’s astonishing piece of work.

“If you said that I’d finish 21 under,” he admitted, “I’d have said ‘No way’. I’m a long way behind Rory in the Order of Merit so I’ve got a long way to go. But I’m really pleased. To shoot 65 in the last round, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to do that.”

As he contemplated the remarkable upsurge in his fortunes, McIlroy himself was returning from his own golfing adventure in China, a trip he enjoyed in the company of Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and others. “Now mentally preparing myself for 20 hours in the air from Hong Kong to Bermuda,” he tweeted on the day Lewis produced his fireworks.

McIlroy was off to Bermuda to play in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, along with fellow 2011 major winners, Charl Schwartzel, Darren Clarke and Keegan Bradley. You wouldn’t want to bet too heavily against Tom Lewis being there one day. As for the European Tour, I think even its geographically innovative boss, George O’Grady, might regard Bermuda as being too much within Tim Finchem’s sphere of influence.

November 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 






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