European Tour Golfer of The Year - Status and Prize Money

Status and Prize Money

It is beyond dispute that the European Tour is the second most important tour in men's golf, behind the PGA Tour and well ahead of all the others. What is harder to define is its standing relative to the PGA Tour and whether that has risen or fallen in recent years.

At the start of 2006 five of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking were full members of the European Tour, namely Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Sergio García, Adam Scott and Colin Montgomerie. Two years later, at the start of 2008, the number of full European Tour members in the top 10 remained at five, namely Els, Justin Rose, Scott, Pádraig Harrington, and Vijay Singh. At the start of 2009, that number increased to seven—García, Harrington, Singh, Robert Karlsson, Henrik Stenson, Els, and Lee Westwood. At the start of 2010, that number went back to five, with Westwood, Harrington, and Stenson joined by Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy. Apart from McIlroy, who was only 20 years old at the end of 2009, and longtime European Tour veterans Montgomerie and Karlsson, all of the named golfers are also members of the PGA Tour, and moved to it as their main or joint main tour after playing in Europe first. Singh had largely abandoned the European Tour for the PGA Tour in the late 1990s, but rejoined the European Tour in 2006. 2010 saw much success for European Tour members, including major wins for Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer, and a victory in the 2010 Ryder Cup. Lee Westwood ended the year as world number one. As of 24 January 2011, the no. 1 and 2 positions in the golf rankings are occupied by Europeans (Westwood and Kaymer), for the first time in 18 years. Westwood, Kaymer, no. 4. McDowell and no 7. McIlroy all see the European Tour as their primary tour.

The European Tour is traditionally the first overseas move for outstanding players from non-European countries in the Commonwealth, long a major source for elite golfers, such as Greg Norman and Nick Price. These players tended to move to the PGA Tour as a second step. However, lately the European Tour is losing this role as more Commonwealth golfers choose to move directly to the U.S. There is also a current trend for young UK golfers to play primarily on the PGA Tour. In some cases, such as that of Luke Donald, this is a natural consequence after completing a golf scholarship at a U.S. university. Such scholarships are not available (or even legal) in Europe.

When Continental Europe produced its first global golf stars in the 1970s, such as Seve Ballesteros, and especially when Europe began to notch wins over the United States in the Ryder Cup in the mid 1980s, there was widespread optimism about the future standing of the European Tour relative to the PGA Tour. This has ebbed away as several major European countries, such as Germany and Italy, have not produced high-ranked golfers on a regular basis as was formerly anticipated. Nonetheless, the number of European countries which have produced winners on the European Tour has increased steadily, with notable golfing depth developing in the Scandinavian countries. The latter point is illustrated by developments in 2008 and 2009. Not only did the 2008 end-of-year world top 10 feature two Swedes (Karlsson and Stenson), but five other Swedes won events on either the PGA Tour or European Tour in 2008; Karlsson and Stenson were joined by the Dane Søren Hansen on Team Europe at the 2008 Ryder Cup; and the season-ending Volvo Masters was won in 2008 by Hansen's countryman Søren Kjeldsen. In 2009, Karlsson dropped out of the top 10 and Stenson remained. Nine Scandinavians won events on either the European or PGA Tour in 2009; four of them—Dane Jeppe Huldahl and Swedes Oskar Henningsson, Christian Nilsson, and Alexander Norén—were first-time European Tour winners.

The total 2005 prize fund on the PGA Tour is approximately $250 million. On the European Tour, it is over £80 million or around $150 million, around 60 percent of what the American tour offers. However, both of these totals include around $50 million in prize money for seven co-sanctioned events, namely the majors and the World Golf Championships. Excluding these, the European Tour offers approximately 50 percent as much prize money as the PGA Tour. It can be argued that since PGA Tour members have had far more wins and top 10 finishes in the seven co-sanctioned events in recent years, the 50 percent figure is a better reflection of the actual financial resources of the European Tour relative to its rival.

Leaving aside the majors and World Golf Championship events, which are the most lucrative on the schedule, there is still much more variation in prize funds on the European Tour than on the PGA Tour. Two key tiers can be identified: those not far away from a million Euro, and those in the three to four million Euro range. Most of the former group are for co-sponsored events outside Europe and most of the latter are for events staged in Europe. At the January 2010 exchange rate of roughly USD 1.40 per euro, the richer group of European tournaments offers purses approaching and sometimes surpassing those of typical "regular" events on the PGA Tour, with their 2010 prize funds of $5–6 million.

The prize funds of many European Tour events have increased rapidly since the late 1990s. Nonetheless, in 2005, an increasing amount of media attention was given to the perceived failure of the European Tour to attract as many leading players to its events as in the recent past. It is unclear how this contradiction between the Tour's apparently weakening on-course position and its seemingly strong sponsorship position will play out in the future. The role of Asia may be crucial; in November 2005 a new European Tour-sanctioned event in China called the HSBC Champions tournament was played for the first time. With a purse of $5 million, it was by far the richest tournament ever played in Asia. It now has a purse of $7 million, and became a World Golf Championships event starting in 2009.

In a decision that, according to the Associated Press, "reflects the changing nature of a global game", one of the top young American amateurs, Peter Uihlein, announced in December 2011 that he would not return for his final semester at Oklahoma State University and would begin professional play in Europe the following month—both through sponsor's exemptions on the main tour and on the developmental Challenge Tour.

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