The European Tour Players Awards which took place on Tuesday night before this week’s BMW PGA Championship gave a real indication of just how much European Tour Members are beginning to dominate the professional game. Not only was the entire winning European Ryder Cup team present, together with their Captain and all but one of the vice-captains, but so were all four current Major championship winners. Perhaps most impressively was the fact that amongst this group were six of the world’s top seven players and seven of the top ten. Here was the evidence of a sea change in the top echelons of the sport. European golf was again dominating the professional game.
It’s almost twenty years since European players last featured so prominently in the World Golf Rankings. At the end of May 1991 the top three in the rankings were Woosnam, Olazábal and Faldo with Seve and Langer both ensconced inside the top 10. However, outside that first division it was a different story, with only five other European players inside the top 50, Ronan Rafferty being the highest of them at 25. The remaining places were dominated by players from the US, with 27 Americans in the top 50 and 13 from the ‘Rest of the World’. While the leading Europeans might have been dominating the world stage there was clearly a lack of strength in depth.
Compare that to today. The most recent world rankings show Lee Westwood leading the way, just ahead of Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald. McIlroy, McDowell and Casey are also in the top ten. Below them? Well things are looking better with twelve other Europeans in the top 50. In fact it is interesting to note that both the US and Europe have eighteen players each within that fifty, and that seven of those in the ranking from the ‘Rest of the World’ are members of the European Tour.
Obviously there are various reasons for this leveling of the world order. The European Tour is more lucrative than twenty years ago and opportunities for their members to play in the US and all the major championships are much better so playing standards have improved. But there is more to this than just improvement in performance. It’s not difficult to detect a new sense of self confidence amongst the European players and a real belief that, on their day, any of them could be the best in the world. This attitude, of course linked to hard work and natural talent, is helping to drive each of them on to greater achievements.
During his interview at the awards on Tuesday, Martin Kaymer pointed out that what spurred him on to victory at the USPGA last year was watching Padraig Harrington win The Open Championship in 2007 and then two more majors in 2008. “It gave the Europeans the belief that we could win Majors as well. It wasn’t just the Americans like Tiger Woods.”
“Then Graeme won the US Open. All these things gave me the motivation to work harder. All the putts Padraig holed inspired me to practise harder and it showed at the US PGA Championship, and when I made that putt on the 72nd hole it paid off. I have Padraig Harrington to thank for that inspiration. Now I have to continue and keep working hard.”
That feeling of confidence certainly pervaded the room on Tuesday night as the great and the good in the golf world gathered to pay tribute to what George O’Grady, Chief Executive of the European Tour, called “…the greatest year in the history of The European Tour”. Most left feeling that, although we may be in troubled times, the state of the professional game is strong and this can only be good for the future development of the game.
With young stars like Rory McIlroy and Matteo Manassero already establishing themselves as winners the future of European golf looks in safe hands and, this time, unlike in 1991, the progress will surely be sustained.