When the United States was rapidly growing for much of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries the admonition by Horace Greeley for aspiring young men was to head west. Fame and fortune awaited. Dreams put into reality with land aplenty and opportunities as endless as the horizon. That same clarion call is happening with elite European players now and the need to be in America. Just this week Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 24-year-old star English player, accepted Special Temporary Membership for the remainder of the 2018-2019 PGA Tour season.
Keep this in mind, Fitzpatrick is not an anomaly in seeing where his future lies. He is the highest-ranked player in the Official World Golf Rankings — at number 33 — without full-time PGA Tour membership, and brings the total number of active international Tour members to 89 from 25 countries. More importantly, forty-six of the top 50 players in the world are now Tour members. The European contingent is indeed a powerful force in that grouping with the likes of Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy leading the way. The situation is not a new one for Fitzpatrick. Last year — he along with Joaquin Niemann and Kiradech Aphibarnrat — fellow talented young players, but also from outside America, achieved that designation for the 2018-2019 season.
The reason is simple — lasting golf fame is achieved in the United States. And that fame translates to more money — via both on and off course opportunities. For any extremely talented European player the allure is clear. Go west — young man — go west.
McIlroy stated the obvious back in January during this appearance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions held at Kapalua.
His reasoning was straightforward. “My life is here. I have an American wife. I live in America,” said the four-time major winner. “Honestly, I enjoy it here more. The way of life is easier. The weather. The convenience. You go to Europe and get paid a nice amount of money to start the year. I’ve done that for a decade. I want to switch it up. I’ve done it for 11 years, so I may as well do something a little different.”
For the elite players the most important dimension is a commodity higher above anything else — time. In McIlroy’s case he turns 30 in May — he has not won a major since 2014 and his last win came just over a year ago at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational. It’s been said money can be reprinted but that’s not the case with time. Once time is gone — it’s gone for good. Rory knows that story all too well.
The staple of fine young players globally is a continuous churning out process. The competition, likewise, is fiercer than ever. You also have clear realities. America hosts three of the four major championships. The purses on the PGA Tour are the highest on the globe and the conveniences McIlroy spelled out can easily apply to any other player. There’s also the compression of the new PGA Tour schedule. When the PGA Tour, in concert with the PGA of America, agreed late in 2018 to finish the main golf season in August of this year — away from the conflicts endured in past seasons against more highly viewed National Football League and collegiate football games — the realities of time and how to properly use it became a clear reality check.
This week’s Players Championship is the start of a five month period when one major marquee event will be scheduled. All, with the exception of The Open at Royal Portrush in July, will be held in America. The compression of the schedule for players means keeping oneself fresh and in the mix. Consider the case of Fitzpatrick. The talented young player makes his 47th start on the PGA Tour this week — with four top-10s. While he has won 5 times on the European Tour, he has never won yet on the PGA Tour. No one better than Fitzpatrick understands that and its a distinction with the likes of Colin Montgomerie that Fitzpatrick would like to remove as soon as possible.
Appearance money has been the dangling carrot for many European players and it’s something elite American players have opted to enjoy as well. But, even with the wherewithal to fly privately the constant back-and-forth and the weariness of jet lag is clearly not conducive in being at your absolute best when competing at the highest of levels. The European Tour will likely always be a feeding ground for the up and coming player who longs to compete at the highest of levels. And the highest of all floors is in America. The siren’s call can be nearly impossible to ignore. Go west — young European player — go west.
© Matthew Harris / TGPL
There’s been the veiled pushback by the European Tour that Euro players opting to play practically exclusively in America will not be considered for Ryder Cup play since they will not earn sufficient points. Such a threat is truly misguided. If carried out would mean fielding a less than optimum team for the event. McIlroy has not forsaken playing European Tour events but his presence will likely be held in abeyance till July. There is a window for the European Tour and that comes with a series of events commences in July in succession with the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch, the Aberdeen Standards Investment Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club and then The Open Championship at Portrush. Interestingly, a number of Americans, most notably Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, have prospered when playing in Europe prior to The Open. There’s little doubt other players have taken note and will likely follow suit.
Consider when the PGA Tour and PGA of America opted for the schedule change — the European Tour’s flagship event — the BMW PGA Championship had to move from a late May date to a late September one in 2019. To have attempted to remain in the May time slot would likely have meant a serious conflict with the new PGA Championship date at Bethpage and a probable shortage of key players for the Euro event.
Gifted players — wherever they are originally from — will always be drawn to competition at the highest of levels. To assert oneself against the very best is what drives them. Titles won against superior talent validates one’s standing in the game — both in the present and for eternity. The roadmap for any gifted European player is quite simple, direct and prudent to follow.
Go west — young European player – go west.