Europe’s PGA Tour graduates must heed Harrington’s warning

Ronan MacNamara
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Adrian Meronk (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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It’s a new year on the DP World Tour. For some players that will mean new changes, new equipment and new clothing. For others, it’s same again please.

You need not look too far for Adrian Meronk’s name on a DP World Tour leaderboard who started the year with a 10th place finish at the Dubai Invitational, making it two top-10s in three starts either side of the new year.

The towering Polish star – who is in contention again this week in Dubai – was desperately unfortunate not to make the cut for Luke Donald’s European Ryder Cup team in Rome after a season that saw him win three times and register a further four top-10 finishes.

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The Strategic Alliance has brought controversial changes and one that has been met with mixed reaction is the awarding of ten PGA TOUR cards to the top-10 finishers on the Race to Dubai who are not already exempt.

Many see this as stripping the DP World Tour of its top emerging talent with Meronk, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen, Victor Perez and Robert MacIntyre the high profile names among the ten new PGA Tour card holders.

There is no denying that the PGA Tour is the place to be for the world’s top players but speaking to the Irish Independent recently, Pádraig Harrington sounded a warning for the DP World Tour graduates fearing many will lose their confidence in America.

And he might be right.

The challenge of playing on the PGA Tour is far more complex than just making a step up in class.

That being said, someone like a Meronk who is regularly in contention to win on the DP World Tour will do well to get into a winning position two or three times Stateside this term, the same goes for Fox, Olesen, Perez and co. None of whom have been anything more than your staple DP World Tour pro.

There is also the culture shock of playing in the US. Many have tried to play both in Europe and in America to little avail.

The lack of camaraderie on the PGA TOUR compared to the DP World Tour, the faster greens, the different types of grasses are all elements that take a period of time to adjust to. It’s much harder to adapt unless you set up a permanent base in the United States.

Even Shane Lowry is yet to notch a regular PGA Tour win. The Offaly man lost his PGA Tour card in 2018 and had to move permanently to Florida and prioritise a full-time PGA Tour schedule in order to get to grips with the standard required.

“It is hard and it has been very hard on me these last few years and I feel like that has been my downfall, honest“, he said before making the move in 2018.

“It been all too hard for me.  It has been too hard to keep my World Ranking and you end up not being in all the big tournaments.  I look not playing in Akron last week a that was tough especially after winning the event so soon ago.

“So, I have plans to move to America for a few months next year and I am going to concentrate full time on the PGA Tour next year and see what happens after that“.

Belgian star Thomas Pieters wasn’t cut out for life on the PGA Tour despite his immense talent.

The 2016 Ryder Cupper felt lonely after events and missed the togetherness of playing in Europe, something he feels he has regained on LIV Golf.

“As a kid you obviously dream about playing on the PGA Tour, winning golf tournaments. I played a year on the PGA Tour. I did not like it,” said Pieters who won a record four points as a rookie in the 2016 Ryder Cup.

“I got very homesick, very lonely, so for me that was kind of like tick the box, I tried it over there, wasn’t my thing and then LIV came around right at the right time.

“Everybody who was playing on it last year that I talked to said it was very exciting, new and that was something that really spoke to me. You can’t lie about it financially, it’s amazing, and it was something as a family, father of two daughters, as well with my girlfriend, it’s awesome to have such good schedule, as well.”

In Europe these players are treated like stars, but in the US they will be given the worst tee times, they will be finishing in the dark, they won’t get television time and they won’t draw the crowds. They will no longer be the main attraction that they once were.

On a sidetone this is where the DP World Tour deserve praise because they treat any American visitor like royalty and that can do wonders for the confidence of a player.

Cameron Young enters the weekend in Dubai in the lead, when he arrived he hadn’t had a top-10 finish since the Open Championship.

The feeling that granting PGA Tour cards to the top-10 DP World Tour players will dilute the firepower in Europe isn’t a new problem.

In 2013, Nicolas Colsaerts, Ross Fisher and Peter Hanson all struggled as did Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood as an underperforming bug wreaked havoc on Europeans in the US.

Colsaerts dropped from 36th to 68th in the world rankings before plummeting to 140th in 2014.

The same fate awaited Hanson who went from 19th to 48th in the world and then plummeted to 242nd by the end of 2014.

In 2021, MacIntyre saw his Ryder Cup bid go up in smoke as he bid for a PGA Tour card and ultimately lost his form for a while before rising to prominence at the 2022 Italian Open – he is out for a second chance this term.

Last week saw a five and five split of the ten PGA Tour card graduates as MacIntyre, Alexander Björk, Matthieu Pavon, Sami Valimaki and Ryo Hisatsune with only Pavon registering a top-10 as Bjork and Valimaki missed the cut.

It all sounds overly negative, yes. But on the flip side this could be the best time for a European to cut their teeth in America.

The schedule might help them.

With most of the top players prioritising the signature events as the season wears on, that will leave regular events depleted in quality which could help the Europeans settle into life Stateside.

Matt Wallace won the Corales Puntacana Championship while Aaron Rai enjoyed some good weeks in the weaker fields which have enabled him to maintain a top-70 world ranking.

The presence of LIV has quite glaringly diluted some PGA Tour fields, outside of the majors and signature events so perhaps the transition might be less daunting for some of our better European players in the regular events who look to make the grade Stateside.

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