Tommy Fleetwood’s second Rolex Series win at the Nedbank Challenge came with a record first prize cheque of $2.5 million, quite the sum to a National lottery winner in a three-bedroom semi in Leixlip but to the new number 2 on this season’s Race to Dubai, it was like finding a scrunched up fiver in the back pocket of a pair of jeans fresh out of the washing machine.
“I mean, the money’s not that important,” Fleetwood admitted. “Obviously, I guess being a golfer these days, you have a chance at a young age to set your family up for life. I’m just very proud of that, really, and everybody that goes on the journey with you constantly. It’s just really, really cool when you win a tournament, it really is.”
As a qualifying school graduate in 2010, Fleetwood could hardly have dreamt that 217 tournaments on the European Tour later he’d have amassed €18,625,256.41 in earnings on the golf course. That’s before you get to sponsorship deals, regularly exceeding what a top ranked golfer rakes in with club in hand.
It’s no wonder then that the Englishman reportedly had no idea in August of last year that a $154,000 cheque with his name on it went to a Wells Fargo bank account with his namesake’s details attached. An unsuspecting Thomas Fleetwood received $154,480 via direct debit; the then world number 11’s reward for tying 12th at the Open Championship a fortnight prior.
A clerical error at European Tour HQ was supposedly at fault for the misdirected funds with Fleetwood only notified via email after Fleetwood II outed himself on social media with an honest declaration of the undeserved prize.
‘Wrong deposit, please send it back,’ was the crux of the Tour’s blunt request for the money to be returned. Fleetwood II kindly obliged but it begs the question, would anyone have actually noticed the runaway 150gs if the beneficiary kept shtum?
This is the level of rich we’re dealing with now on Tour. 150 grand goes walkabout and nobody bats an eyelid. I performed a forensic analysis of my house the other day when €2 disappeared off the coffee table. Don’t worry, it had just fallen into my shoe, but who’s to blame for this madness?
It was my niece, she thought it would be funny. Sorry, wrong tangent.
Well, not the players, that’s for sure. It was refreshing to watch an emotional Fleetwood so moved, not because of his latest windfall but for finally breaking a 22-month victory drought, even if he used a crisp 20 to wipe the tears away.
No, rather it’s the Tour, intent on throwing money at golf’s problems that must be held accountable. Were we supposed to get excited about a record $2 million first prize cheque in Turkey? A week later and they’d up the ante by half a million in South Africa. It’s risen to $3 million this week in the oil-rich UAE, and that’s before we get into dividing the $5 million bonus pool between the top-5 players on the Race to Dubai.
Good money if you can get it says you, yet the money’s so meaningless that only one of the top-20 golfers in the world bothered to take up Gary Player’s invite to Sun City last week. It’s a clear indication that the brains of the European Tour have to do better than whip out the cheque book to engage a new audience. To date it’s been mind-numbing stuff, creating a complete disconnect between players and ordinary punters whose lives are oversaturated with the Tour already.
Money still matters, don’t get me wrong. Make a top player an offer he can’t refuse with an appearance fee and he’ll board a plane anywhere – the Saudi International will teach you that – but if the premise for European Tour productions like the Rolex Series and end of year playoffs is as basic as making millionaires richer, then you won’t catch me tuning into a propaganda machine on SkySports golf trying to convince me to be interested.
The suits won’t like it but the solution to invigorating audiences in my mind is pulling back. Golf is prostituting itself around the world 24-7, not to grow the game like they’d have you believe but to fill the pockets of corporate sponsors already brimming with prawn sandwiches. Premier League footballers are horrendously overpaid creatures but at least I get a break from them for three months a year. By the time August rolls around, I dare say I’m even excited to ramp up expectation levels for another forlorn Liverpool title bid. In golf, with each passing year, it gets harder to distinguish where one season ends and another begins. Wrap-around season? Wrap-it-up-already. I’m bored. Underpaid. Jealous. Bitter.