It’s a long, long way from there to here

Mark McGowan
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Thomas Detry (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Browsing through the entry fields for this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and The American Express – yes, it’s an exciting life us golf scribes lead – one name struck me as rather odd.

Thomas Detry, fresh off a 2-2-0 performance at the Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi last week, is playing at La Quinta in Palm Springs, California. Quite why the Belgian would opt to spend almost 17 hours in the air – yes, I googled it – when he could’ve stayed in Abu Dhabi and teed it up in the Rolex series event instead made little sense on the surface, so I put on my investigative reporter hat and did a little digging.

Detry is a PGA Tour rookie, having secured his playing rights at the Korn Ferry Tour Finals last year, but he is 36th on the Korn Ferry graduates exemption priority list.

Maybe he’s prioritising the retention of his PGA Tour card?

Well, thanks to a second-place finish behind our own Seamus Power at the Bermuda Championship and four other finishes ranging from ninth to 16th during the Autumn, Detry already has secured enough Fed-Ex Cup points to guarantee his place on tour next year, so it’s not that.

Maybe American Express are a sponsor and he’s contractually obliged to tee it up in Palm Springs?

No, not that either. Thankfully, some other journalist with an equally exciting life to mine had penned an article titled ‘13 things you didn’t know about Thomas Detry.’ Anyway, thankfully, his sponsors were among the ‘13 things’ I didn’t know – he’s a Callaway staff player, wear’s HUGO BOSS apparel, and other sponsors include G/FORE, Mannes, Delen Private Bank, and Rolex. Rolex? The plot thickens!

A Rolex series event, in a Ryder Cup year, and a Rolex sponsored player who’s obviously keen enough to make the team that he’d play in the Hero Cup has decided to travel half-way round the world instead?

Maybe Detry lives in California now? It would be a rather odd choice given California’s taxation laws, which caused even long-time resident Phil Mickelson to up-sticks and move to Florida – well, I suppose that’s hardly that surprising given Mickelson’s obvious love of the dollar – especially for a Belgian who’d gone to college in Illinois. But again, no. In fact, Detry’s residence is actually in Dubai, a two-hour spin up the Gulf coast.

The answer, it appears, was actually found in a blogpost on Detry’s own website.

Breaking into the top 50 in the world is Detry’s primary goal, and he says that in order to do so, he feels that he needs to be playing in the United States and on the PGA Tour. And he’s not wrong. With the new elevated – sorry, designated – events schedule set to really kick in from early February, the disparity between the haves and have nots in world golf will become ever greater.

This week, the Abu Dhabi Championship, one of the DP World Tour’s supposed upper-tier tournaments, has a strength of field less than half that on the PGA Tour, and in turn, less than half the world rankings points on offer. Despite Detry’s lofty Fed-Ex cup position at present, he needs to improve his world ranking to guarantee his place in the genuine top-flight events.

The PGA Tour has long been the alpha dog when it comes to the major tours, but there were several times a year that the European Tour fought its corner bravely. This used to be one of them, but not anymore. Not really.

Detry’s not a big enough name to muscle his way into a Ryder Cup team by being a run-of-the-mill PGA Tour player who tees it up occasionally on the DP World Tour. By skipping the first Rolex Series event of 2023, he’s taking a calculated gamble that he’ll play his way into the designated events and the majors, and then earn his place or captain’s pick in the process.

It’s a bold strategy, but try as I might, I can’t bring myself to be critical of it. Time will tell, I guess, but when one of your rising stars chooses jet lag and headaches over practicality and comfort, it’s another ominous sign for the future of the European Tour.

Detry’s not the first to choose America over Europe – time and again we’ve seen how hard it is for players to travel back and forth without their game suffering as a result.

This is just the first time we’ve seen somebody go to such extraordinary lengths.

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