x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Harrington needs to get real

Three-time Major winner will find little sympathy from lesser players over his views on European Tour membership.

Harrington plays a shot at The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Kingsbarns, Scotland.
Harrington plays a shot at The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Kingsbarns, Scotland.

One day soon I expect three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington to wake up and realise how lucky he is. No one works harder at his game and the Irishman's two British Open Championship victories and a US PGA title have established him as one of the world's top players. When Harrington suggests that moves to tighten membership rules for the European Tour may need to be taken to the European Union it is time for a reality check.

His comments came after Thomas Bjorn, the European Tour's players' committee chairman, suggested some high-profile names who play most of their golf in the USA should increase their commitment to the European Tour. Harrington's reference to the European Union was put down by Bjorn like a spate of club throwing, and there appears to be a stand-off between the two former Ryder Cup teammates. It may need the 2001 Dubai Desert Classic champion Bjorn to pull Harrington aside and point out that he is only being asked to play one more event per year on the European Tour.

At present, members must play 11 Tour events to be eligible to qualify for next month's lucrative Dubai World Championship. To retain full Tour membership they must play a minimum of 12 European Tour events. The European Tour now wants to increase the qualifying criteria by one event, and the reasons are obvious: the game's four Majors and the four World Golf Championship events are part of all the main Tours, so top players who appear in these immediately have eight of the requirement of 11 for the Dubai World Championship.

Playing in that event gives them nine out of the 12 events needed for European Tour membership. And the other three can be accumulated with appearances in the Tour events in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Qatar, or a combination of the co-sanctioned tournaments in Asia, South Africa and Australia. So, with three of the Majors and each of the WGC events held in the USA, a top player can secure full European Tour status by playing in only one tournament per year in Europe - the British Open.

So is the European Tour justified in requiring its members to play an extra European event? I think so. And does Harrington need to think this through more carefully? Absolutely. He will find little sympathy from the lesser European players who battle week in, week out to protect their Tour status, and even less from his predecessors who pioneered the route to riches in the USA. When I came through three qualifying events to gain my PGA Tour card in 1986 only five other Europeans had playing rights for both Tours - Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Ken Brown.

As is the case today, you needed to play in at least 15 events to hold on to your PGA Tour card, and 11 in Europe. In those days none of the Majors counted on the two Tours and there were no WGC events so it was much more difficult to get by. Seve had an ongoing feud with the PGA Tour commissioner Dean Beaman, refusing to accept the 15-event rule as he could make up his quota by getting sponsors' invitations at will. Beaman responded by trying to limit sponsor invitations.

I struggled before going back to Europe, as did Ken Brown who was burnt out at 33 by the effort needed to play on both Tours. It is so much easier now, and this is why I say Harrington does not know how lucky he is. Seve, Langer, Faldo, and Ian Woosnam who relied largely on invitations, gave Europe dominance in the US Masters at a time when a solitary European Tour invitation went to the previous year's leading money winner.

In 1983 when I played in World Series of Golf in Ohio as the Amateur champion and Faldo was forced to miss the event I was the only British representative. The same event this year, part of the WGC series, featured more than 20 Europeans, including stars like Harrington and Lee Westwood, but also lesser lights such as Soren Kjeldsen and Gregory Havret Often criticised in the past and labelled a closed shop for its attitude to foreign players, the PGA Tour has in recent years opened its doors to a growing influx of Europeans and other overseas golfers.

Similarly, the European Tour has welcomed increasing numbers of Australians, South Africans, and, more recently, Asian players as the game has developed its strategy for global development. I would not be surprised if the qualifying criteria for the Euro- pean Tour rose to 15 events to bring parity with the US. I do not see a problem with that, particularly if at least eight events feature on both Tours.

Golf has created a global stage and its top performers must share its global outlook. There is no holding the PGA Tour in their efforts to make the Presidents Cup a global spectacle. While it was no surprise to see the USA extend their dominance over the International team it might be different if the event is staged outside North America more in future. The PGA Tour has largely fav-oured US venues so far in order for the event take off on the back off large crowd, TV and sponsor support.

It is now strong enough to switch regularly between home territory and overseas, but while the Presidents Cup goes from strength to strength, the same cannot be said of what is now the Vivendi Trophy with Seve Ballesteros between players from Britain and Ireland and Continental Europe. On one side, Tiger Woods led the avalanche of big names giving their unwavering support for what has become a prestigious international team match-play event, while a host of Europe's best wriggled out of the former Seve Trophy.

As much as I love Seve and respect the European Tour, I believe they, rather than his management company, should have been in control of the event to drive it forward. I hope it is not too late. Former Tour player Philip Parkin is now a member of the TV commentary team with the BBC in the UK and Golf Channel in the US. @Email:pparkin@thenational.ae