ST ANDREWS // Anybody wanting either to join the European Tour or to stay a member of it is going to have to plan their schedule a lot more carefully next season. Not only has the minimum number of events required for membership been increased from 11 to 12, but there is also a stipulation that at least two of them have to be tournaments played on continental Europe.
The changes were made at a players' committee meeting at St Andrews last night and followed reports that world No 2 Phil Mickelson was among a number of US Tour-based players thinking of joining the European circuit. The Tour launches its new-look 'Race for Dubai' in just over a month, culminating in the world's richest event in Dubai next November. That tournament, the Dubai World Championship, is open only to the leading 60 players on the Order of Merit - and as things stood, Mickelson and the others could have become eligible without stepping foot in Europe. But the new demand also affects some European stars.
Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington, for instance, has not played a continental event so far this season - the Volvo Masters in Spain at the end of this month will be his one and only; nor has Sergio Garcia - while Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey have played only one each. Tour chief executive George O'Grady said: "It was a very positive discussion by the committee, who reviewed all aspects of the Tour and took into account the current economic situation.
"They felt this was a correct way to recognise the support of the founding body of the European Tour in Europe. "It is a stepping stone, and they will continue to review the situation on an annual basis." The committee chairman Thomas Bjorn added: "Over the years, the seasons have been extended so much - and we also think that, with a 13-month season coming up, it is reasonable to put the number up by one.
"It is not a big 'ask' to play 12 events, especially when a lot of those guys in question play four majors and three World Golf Championship events anyway. "It was never a big 'ask' - it was just time to change." * PA Sport