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Found And Lost? Globalization has saved the European tour--but may have killed its soul

May 21, 2001
May 21, 2001

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May 21, 2001

Found And Lost? Globalization has saved the European tour--but may have killed its soul

Ken Schofield's passport is a sad document, with frayed edges
and a faded red cover. Schofield, executive director of the
European tour, sighs as he produces the British passport from
the breast pocket of his blue blazer and turns to the section
bearing foreign-entry stamps. The pages look like Impressionist
paintings, with colors that bleed into each other. "I'm afraid I
ran out of room long ago," Schofield, 55, says in his Scottish
burr. He has been asked a simple question--What tournaments have
you attended so far in 2001?--but keeping up with the Euro tour
is so head-spinning these days that even its executive director
has to consult his passport to come up with an answer.

This is an article from the May 21, 2001 issue

"Let's see," Schofield says, flipping through the pages, "I was
in Australia to start the year, then South Africa. Didn't make it
to Malaysia. Yes to Dubai and Qatar. Missed the two events in
South America. I was in Augusta for the Masters, then Morocco for
a brief time...."

Around and around it goes. The Euro tour has taken the idea of
an economy without borders to its extreme: Not until the 15th
tournament of its season did the tour reach Europe, for last
month's Spanish Open. As the tour has celebrated its 30th
anniversary, many of its top players have been absent from the
party. Miguel Angel Jimenez, Per-Ulrik Johansson and Jose Maria
Olazabal boycotted the far-flung travel of the early season in
favor of the Elysian fairways of the PGA Tour. Even the Euro
tour's return to the Continent didn't bring out all its biggest
stars. During the Portuguese Open, the week after the Spanish
Open, Darren Clarke swept to victory in...a Japanese tour event.
The next week Colin Montgomerie didn't bother to defend his
title at the French Open. Lee Westwood was absent as well, busy
scooping up a fat appearance fee in Macao.

What's going on with the European tour? For most of the last two
decades it was the wild and woolly home of hot-blooded,
freewheeling expressionists like Olazabal, Seve Ballesteros and
Ian Woosnam, and stiff-upper-lip technicians like Nick Faldo and
Bernhard Langer. These guys played a different, maybe better
brand of golf than was found on the PGA Tour, and their genius
was glimpsed in the U.S. only occasionally, usually when one of
the Euros stormed to victory at the Masters or when the European
team kicked butt at the Ryder Cup. Adding an edge to this
success was the isolationist vibe radiating from the top
Europeans, who were fiercely proud of their homelands and their
insular tour.

In the mid- to late 1990s, however, a double whammy hit the
European tour: The stars on which its cult of personality was
built were fading fast as Tiger Woods arrived on the PGA Tour
and turned golf into a mass-market phenomenon in the U.S. As the
disparity in prize money between the two tours increased--in '98
the total purse in Europe ($40 million) was $56 million less
than the U.S. total--Schofield enacted a series of momentous
changes in the European tour. He made a mad grab for market
share by colonizing every corner of the globe not already spoken
for. More radically, he forged a partnership with the lords of
U.S. golf: In '99 money won by Euro tour members at the U.S.
Open and the PGA Championship counted on the European money list
for the first time (the Masters was added in 2000), and earnings
from new World tour events also counted.

As a result, of the eight biggest purses on the European tour in
2001, six will be awarded by tournaments played outside Europe
(five in the U.S.). As awkward as this globalization may seem, it
has all but saved the European tour. "The World tour events and
the European tour's inclusion of winnings from American majors on
our money list have undoubtedly helped our tour," Schofield says,
noting that by 2000 the Euro tour's prize money had doubled, to
nearly $80 million. "This has allowed our players to cash in on
untold riches while maintaining a base over here, where their
families and their roots lie."

Had the European tour retained its autonomy, it would have lost
its best players. "Of course they would have gone to America, all
of them," says Schofield. "In this economic climate, it would be
foolish not to."

Yet the influx of foreign dollars is threatening to wipe out the
European tour's identity. "The tour has in a sense become a
fiction," says one of Europe's most widely traveled golf
writers, Alan Page of France's Le Figaro and the AP's Madrid
bureau. "The lines of demarcation have been erased. It is hard
to feel connected to the spirit and tradition of the so-called
European tour when you're in South Africa playing a
target-styled course in 100-degree heat. More damning is that
the sanctity of the Order of Merit has been diluted. The
tournaments in America have such outsized purses that they all
but determine the so-called European Number 1, which is edging
toward a term with no meaning."

Also endangered are the traditional twin pillars of the European
tour's reputation: success in the Ryder Cup and at the Masters.
In 1985 the Europeans ended 28 years of Ryder Cup futility with
a victory at the Belfry, beginning a period in which they had a
4-3-1 Cup record and made a bold argument for the supremacy of
their tour. The '99 Ryder Cup marked another turnaround. It was
the first time in more than two decades that Ballesteros, Faldo,
Langer and Woosnam all failed to make the team. With seven
rookies, the European squad suffered a historic final-day
collapse. Recent Masters results have added to the frustration.
In '80 Ballesteros kicked down the door, becoming the first
European to win at Augusta, and players from the eastern side of
the Atlantic wore nine of the next 16 green jackets, including
seven out of nine from '88 through '96. Since then only one
European, Olazabal, has prevailed at Augusta.

In fact, none of the top three Europeans--Westwood (4th in the
World Ranking), Montgomerie (6th) and Clarke (9th)--have won a
major. Their thin resumes are emblematic of a tour that these
days has fewer stars and more grinders. Europe increasingly looks
like a transoceanic Buy.com tour: just another back door to the
U.S. In 2000 a record number of Europeans entered the PGA Tour Q
school. These robotic young men are already mimicking the Tour
culture. "They're getting thinner, drinking more water and less
beer," says TV commentator David Feherty, who played on the Euro
tour from 1980 through '94. "The tour is losing its raw edge, the
fabled party atmosphere."

Asked to describe that atmosphere, Feherty tells a story of
passing through the Amsterdam airport years ago with a group of
unnamed players after a Scandinavian tournament. "When we get to
customs, one of the officials takes me aside and asks me if I
have any battery-powered devices in my bag," Feherty says.
"'Maybe a shaver?' he asks. I say no, definitely not, so he pulls
me into this alcove, acting in a very grave manner, and pops open
the suitcase. At the top of the bag is a six-pack of crotchless
vibrating underwear and a 15-inch dildo. Meanwhile, the morons
who planted this stuff have followed me and are now on the other
side of the Plexiglas, mooning me. I have many more stories like
that, but that kind of behavior is pretty rare these days."

Schofield will no doubt be relieved to hear it, for he has other
headaches to deal with. Take last month's Spanish Open: The title
sponsor, French automaker Peugeot, withdrew its financial support
at the 11th hour, and Via Digital, a Spanish telecommunications
company, stepped in to keep the tournament afloat. Nonetheless,
chaos reigned. Three months before the tournament was to begin,
the dates were switched, and two months later the venue was moved
from Barcelona to Valencia, to a public course that was given
little time to prepare. No grandstands were erected, not even
behind the 18th green.

Schofield puts this spin on the mess at Valencia: "We carried it
off. Our journey is still very young, but it is full of all the
right energy. The challenge is always met."

Indeed, at the French Open three weeks ago, unrelenting rain put
most of Lyon Golf Club's par-5 5th hole under water. The European
tour simply mowed a tee box in a dry patch of fairway, turning
the 5th hole into a 177-yard par-3 and shaving par from 72 to 70.

"Be wary of comparisons between America and Europe in the arena
of sport," says Schofield. "They are different markets. Your
highest-paid baseball player [the Texas Rangers' Alex
Rodriguez]--what is he making? A quarter of a billion dollars?
That's a little different from [English soccer star] David
Beckham asking for 100,000[pounds] a week, which over here
borders on the scandalous."

It's telling that Schofield doesn't mention the income of Tiger
Woods, whose annual income from endorsements dwarfs A-Rod's
annual salary. This week brings what's usually Woods's only
appearance on the Continent, the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in
Alveslohe, Germany. (A seven-figure appearance fee is the
carrot.) The Deutsche Bank is one of the most lucrative
tournaments on the European tour; its purse of $2.4 million is
exceeded by those of only five other regular events. On the PGA
Tour only one tournament has a smaller purse than the Deutsche
Bank.

Schofield will be on hand in Alveslohe, and the journey will
require him to get out his ragged passport once more. The event,
however, will have an American feel. The venue is the TPC of
Europe--Tournament Players Clubs being a concept cribbed from
the PGA Tour. The player everybody wants to see will be the
flag-bearer of U.S. golf. This, in a nutshell, points up the
dilemma of the European tour. It wants the world, but what it
really needs is its own identity, the one it used to have.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN Olazabal skipped the tour's globe-trotting early season and paid for it in the bushes of Valencia.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN Homeboy Sergio Garcia, on native soil at the Spanish Open, is one of the players the Euro tour fears losing to bigger money in the U.S.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN Joy killer? Some of Schofield's critics think it's his fault that the Euro tour has lost the party atmosphere for which it was famous.

Ryder Rooks

Once again, Europe is likely to be the underdog in the Ryder
Cup, which this year will take place Sept. 28-30 at the Belfry.
The main reason: The Euro side probably will have more rookies
than the American squad. Among the top 15 players in the U.S.
and European points standings, these have never played in a
Ryder Cup.

U.S. Career 2001 World
Ryder Rank Wins $ List Rank

7 Joe Durant 3 4 41
10 Scott Verplank 3 14 25
11 David Toms 5 7 17
14 Steve Lowery 2 30 53

Europe Career 2001 World
Ryder Rank Wins $ List Rank

1 Pierre Fulke 3 1 33
7 Phillip Price 2 12 58
8 Paul McGinley 2 11 66
9 Ian Poulter 2 18 111
12 Robert Karlsson 4 7 82
15 Dean Robertson 1 22 126

Europe increasingly looks like a transoceanic Buy.com tour: just
another back door to the United States.