x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Flight of early birds to the PGA is turning out a bogey for European Tour

Golfers heading for the PGA to make the most of its schedule are hurting the European Tour, warns Steve Elling.

Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano is the latest among the exodus of European golfers to shift focus to the PGA Tour. Kai Foersterling / EPA
Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano is the latest among the exodus of European golfers to shift focus to the PGA Tour. Kai Foersterling / EPA

This has to be a first. A world-class golfer announced his intention to join the PGA Tour on his Twitter account last week. Given the talent exodus, it seemed all too fitting.

Like Twitter, the migration of late has seemed instantaneous.

Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano confirmed that he was taking up membership on the US circuit, and a day later, the promising Dane Thorbjorn Olesen did likewise.

It does not mean they will stop playing the European Tour, but it effectively ensures that fans will see less of them on the European side of the Atlantic.

The issue bears tracking because the defection rate has been astounding.

Last winter, the former Ryder Cuppers Martin Kaymer, Peter Hanson, Nicolas Colsaerts and Ross Fisher all joined the American tour.

The former No 1s, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, bought houses in the States, with the intent of focusing on the US schedule.

The PGA Tour now includes 33 of the top 34 players in the world rankings as members, a jaw-dropping total. As one of the US tour's top lieutenants wrote in an email, "33 of 34 is pretty good."

Perhaps not for the European Tour. If the fields this year have seemed weak - and we have entered the fifth month of the 2013 season already - there is a reason.

In the 13 regular European Tour events staged this season, an aggregate total of 42 players ranked in the world top 40 have played. Eleven of the 42 played in Abu Dhabi. This week's event in South Korea has drawn two top-40 players.

Because earnings at majors and World Golf Championships count toward the money lists on both tours, Angel Cabrera is ranked No 2 on the European Tour's Race to Dubai standings, while Graeme McDowell is sixth - and neither has played in Europe this year.

Some reasons behind the migration are obvious.

The US tour offers more money, more fans and more endorsement opportunities; the events are bigger in nearly every quantifiable way.

Some reasons for the thin fields are less apparent. The European circuit last year mandated that players hoping to qualify for the season finale in Dubai had to play in two of the three preceding events to be eligible, which seemingly led this year to more European stars playing in the US early in the season.

It is also not a Ryder Cup year, so Europe's stars are under no pressure to secure European Tour points.

As the summer beckons, surely the fields will improve. Mainly because they cannot possibly get worse.

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