In the 50-year history of the European Tour, at the closing event of the season, the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, on Sunday, something that has never happened: an American could win the Race to Dubai competition.
Collin Morikawa, who won this year’s British Open, is in first place, followed by BMW PGA Championship winner Billy Horschel. Both players are Americans and members of the PGA and the European Tours.
Last year around this time, Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, was up in arms. But Lee Westwood of England won the title for the third time. (The race had previously been called the Order of Merit.)
Jon Rahm, the world’s best-ranked player, was lurking in third place, but he announced on Sunday that he would not be playing in Dubai.
Still, it’s not clear why the US top is rising on the European Tour and what it means, other than that professional golf is in flux.
The tour was once the province of European and non-American players. Then it became a testing ground for future stars, as Brooks Koepka of the United States played on the European Tour early in his career to test his mettle and join the PGA Tour. He won four major championships.
Today, the nationality of who leads the Race to Dubai may be unimportant, because next year’s European Tour won’t even be called the European Tour. Last week, the tour’s parent company, European Tour Group, announced that its flagship tour will be known as the DP World Tour starting in 2022.
Even Keith Pelley, the chief executive of the European Tour, was stunned when asked about American dominance in the annual race and what it meant.
“I would have answered that question very differently for November 2020,” he said, referring to the announcement of a strategic alliance between the PGA Tour and the European Tour.
“Before the PGA Tour became our partner, as opposed to a competitor, it would have meant a lot more for an American to compete in the Race to Dubai,” Pelley said. “We no longer compete for top players. Collin Morikawa and Billy Horschel are great players and great ambassadors of the game, and we are grateful to them. The importance of an American victory would have been much greater in the past.”
The PGA Tour and the European Tour have traditionally been rivals for players and commercial dollars. But out of the Covid lockdown, a partnership emerged.
When major events — such as the Masters, United States Open, PGA Championship and British Open — were initially canceled or postponed last year, the two tours came together to see which events could be safely salvaged and hosted. While many regular season events were lost, three of the four majors were held – albeit without fans. (The British Open was cancelled.)
From that partnership, the PGA Tour took a 15 percent stake in the European Tour Group in May. They also started coordinating their schedules so that the top players could play in the major events of each tour. At the same time, the players who were excluded from those events because of their rankings would have other events to play that would count towards the rankings of both tours.
Next year there will be three such events: the Genesis Scottish Open, the Barbasol Championship and the Barracuda Championship.
“There is no doubt that both organizations will grow stronger by working together,” said Rick Anderson, chief media officer of the PGA Tour.
But what this partnership means for the golfers hasn’t been as easy to figure out as the scheduling, commercial licensing, and big advertising dollars.
This mix of tours in partnerships and branding comes as the golf ecosystem becomes increasingly intertwined, but also incredibly jumbled up. There used to be a clear distinction about what the tours meant. The PGA and the European Tours were rivals in the 1990s, with the players from each tour really only crossing the Atlantic for majors like the Masters or the British Open.
But from 1986 the European Tour started with the Challenge Tour to serve as a testing ground for future European Tour players. Four years later, in 1990, the PGA Tour created the Ben Hogan Tour, now known as the Korn Ferry Tour, to serve the same purpose for the PGA Tour.
The development trips were then introduced into the main trips. But over the decades, players began to shuffle as it became more difficult to gain playing privileges in the Tiger Woods era.
“Our tours were vertically integrated,” Pelley said. “Now they are horizontally integrated, which is a significant difference. What does that mean in the long run? That’s the $1 million question. I cannot give you an emphatic answer.”
There are certainly opportunities for the top players. Horschel realizes he can achieve two firsts by winning or finishing high enough at the DP World Championship, Dubai, which ends Sunday, to claim the Race to Dubai. Not only is he the first American to win the European Tour season title, but he could easily be the second player to win both the Race to Dubai and the FedEx Cup, the equivalent of the PGA Tour.
But Horschel, 34, who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where the PGA Tour is based, said he grew up watching tournaments like the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour early in the day and was inspired to play afterward. play. He has a growing fan base in Europe and said he hopes to play five to seven tournaments on the European Tour each year.
This is made possible by the alliance between the two tours and the increased sponsorship of DP World. Each DP World Tour tournament will have at least $2 million in prize money, while the season-ending DP World Championship version will have a prize of $10 million next year, up from approximately $9 million this year.
There will also be more collaboration so that the elite players can play in the biggest events of each tour. “The thought was how we can organize our respective schedules, so this is more planned,” Anderson said. “If you organize things like this, it’s better for both organizations and not disruptive to the tours.
(Neither Pelley nor Anderson would comment on Greg Norman’s new Saudi-backed golf venture, LIV Golf Investments, which aims to create a premier golf league to lure the best players.)
Where the new focus on the big events has been less thought through is the impact on all other golfers who are not in the Top 50. Their path is not as clear as it once was. Younger American and European players had a system to work their way from the Korn Ferry and Challenge Tours to the PGA and European Tours. But DP World’s alliance and higher prize money could displace them.
A nod to that is that both tours will endorse two smaller events next year, in the Barbasol Championship and the Barracuda Championship, providing playing opportunities for professionals who didn’t qualify for the Scottish or British Opens to be held in the same weeks..
“Today, the different ways you get to the PGA Tour are varied and there’s no clear path to get there,” Anderson said. “We want to identify clear lanes for the players who ask, how do I advance in our sport and create options?”
For now, though, all eyes are on the elite of golfers to see who will win this year’s Race to Dubai.
“Collin and I have the opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done before,” Horschel said. “It will be an exciting race. You have a lot of great players who have a chance to win the Race to Dubai.”