The Hero Cup: Something old and something new

Mark McGowan

Tommy Fleetwood (Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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To be honest, when news broke that the Seve Trophy was making its return early next year, albeit under the guise of the Hero Cup, I didn’t really give it much thought.

The old adage of repetition and insanity sprang to mind, but that was as far as it went.

Younger readers – yes, I’ve come to terms with middle-agedness – probably won’t remember the Seve Trophy, but it’s been defunct since 2013 after a gradual decline in interest among public and players alike.

The initial staging, at Sunningdale back in 2000, was a star-studded event and of those eligible only Mark James – the 1999 Ryder Cup captain – opted out, but he was replaced by David Howell who had finished 22nd on the European Tour’s Order of Merit the previous year.

It was a similar story at Druid’s Glen in 2002, before the event was switched to odd years to re-sync with the Ryder Cup which had switched to even years following the World Trade Centre attacks in 2001, and it remained strong until the 2007 event when the likes of Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood all declined.

Each subsequent staging saw the field weaken further until the death knell was sounded in 2013 where the top eligible players in the world rankings were notable by their absence.

There were several reasons for this. The global economic collapse in 2008 saw a considerable reduction in the prize fund. Prior to this, members of the winning team received €125k with the losing side each getting €75k, but this was reduced to €65k and €55k respectively from 2009 onwards.

The gap between PGA Tour purses and European Tour purses had been gradually widening throughout the noughties, but with Fed-Ex coming on board to sponsor the season-ending playoffs with a €10 million first prize, the gap became a chasm, and more and more Europeans began to make the United States their permanent base. That the Seve Trophy often clashed with the Tour Championship was also poor planning.

Finally, Ballesteros’ own decline and eventual death from brain cancer in 2011 can’t be discounted. The man most responsible for the Ryder Cup’s rebirth was rightly heralded, and his own involvement as a playing captain until 2003 and as a non-playing captain in 2007 was surely a factor given the god-like status he held for any golfer’s who’d grown up in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

So why bring it back? The recent announcement that ‘Moliwood’ – Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood – would be playing captains for their respective sides in the new-look Seve Trophy got me thinking.

First of all, the scheduling makes it much more appealing for player and fan alike. Even for the zealots, come September a certain golf-weariness sets in. It’s hard to get too excited when we’ve had big tournament after big tournament for months on end, unless we’re talking about a Ryder Cup which transcends the game in many ways.

One of my favourite things about the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii is that golf is returning from a break. It’s refreshing, and my tank filled, I’m ready to dive in again. The Hero Cup will run from 13-15 January in Abu Dhabi, the week after the Tournament of Champions, and a week before the Rolex Series’ Abu Dhabi Championship – a tournament that typically boasts one of the DP World Tour’s strongest fields.

Yes, there is the little matter of the Hawaii to Middle East commute. 17 hours in the air taking the most direct route, and the inevitable jet lag that’ll follow and with the Hawaii purse bolstered to $20 million in a no-cut event, and with Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Matt Fitzpatrick, Seamus Power and Viktor Hovland all qualified – and to be PIP eligible in 2023, it’s a must play – it becomes a considerable ask to tee it up at the Hero Cup.

And ultimately, that will be the litmus test. Seamus Power has already voiced his intent to be a part of it, but McIlroy and Rahm are the real stars – the European leaders on and off the course – and without them it’s hard to see the renewal being an unqualified success.

That McIlroy in particular has taken up the mantle of defender of the realm in the wake of LIV Golf’s arrival bodes well for him lending his considerable weight to the Hero Cup, but as yet, his participation is unclear.

Quite how much value Luke Donald will gain and how much insight into prospective partnerships is up for debate, given that pairings like ‘Moliwood’ or Rose and Stenson would be on opposite sides of the aisle here, but the best part of a week spent in team-bonding can’t be a bad thing.

I’ll reserve judgement until the teams are picked and the event staged, but it’s worth a shot.

Given the trouncing the Europeans took at Whistling Straits, for Donald not to try something new – even if it’s something old – would be more insanity.

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