Matt Cooper is at the Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort in Belek this week as the European Tour’s 2018 Race to Dubai nears its conclusion.
The New World Number One
Justin Rose is fond of Turkey. In the Turkish Airlines Open itself he has finished 3-1-1 and a comment on Sunday afternoon was revealing. It referred to his comfort levels off the course and whilst, for some, the lavish on-site hotel prompts thoughts of end-of-term fun and games, Rose takes a subtly different line: he accepts that energy levels are drooping at this time of year and uses the thought (and reality) of a favourite hotel, yards from the first tee, to sooth and maintain his performance rather than distract it.
There will be some who snipe at the slightly clumsy manner in which his ascent to world number one was completed (bogey-bogey and then his play-off opponent lost the play-off with a three-putt), but success in golf is a long game and since Rose missed the cut in the 2017 PGA Championship he has been incredibly consistent.
He’s made 31 starts in that period, 23 of them top tens and 14 top fives. There have been four runner-up finishes and five wins. In other words: he absolutely earned the right to get a bit lucky.
— Matt Cooper (@MattCooperGolf) November 4, 2018
An International Tour
If there is one thing folk know about the difference between the European and PGA Tours it is that on the former hotels are populated by gaggles of giggling golfers who thrive on the company of others, whilst on the latter restaurants are full of players sat alone and uninterested in friends and strangers alike.
It’s almost certainly not the case that the split is quite so straightforward, but a less vaunted aspect of golf’s never-ending worldwide jaunt is that the Asian players share strong friendships.
That much was apparent on Saturday evening when Gavin Green, Shubhankar Sharma, Jeunghun Wang and his caddie Dongwoo Ko were engaged in a raucous game of table football which stretched into the night (although purists might argue against Sharma’s fondness for a reckless spin).
Wang, who has been tickled by the basic Korean I gleaned on my recent trip to his home country, was keen to know where I had travelled and what I had got up to. It further emphasised the value of travel because until a few weeks ago I knew nothing of Korea or its people and, like many of us, consequently struggled to understand their story.
Now I found myself engaged in chatter about Seoul’s nightlife, its hipster districts and the best trekking routes among the mountains which surround the city. In one fell swoop I was engaged in Wang’s tale and appreciated him more as an individual. The more we talk, the better we know one another, in golf as well as life.
Gave my rudimentary Korean a workout today. Limited success. My "hello" went down a treat with Jeunghun Wang & his caddie. I then made a pig's ear of "thank you". Partially redeemed myself with a technically perfect but conversationally irrelevent "This is good".
— Matt Cooper (@MattCooperGolf) November 1, 2018
The Domino Effect
The nature of golf’s schedule (50 weeks a year, repeated visits to many venues, a regular cast of characters) makes for great narrative twists and turns.
A favourite aspects of this is revealed in the domino effect of success and a chat with Richard McEvoy, popular winner of August’s European Open, revealed a paper chain of events which started with an invitation from David Howell to join him in the inaugural Queenwood Cup, an 18-hole pro-am which featured a high grade field including Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm and Adam Scott.
The three-shot winner though? McEvoy himself, who was so buoyed by the confidence boost he soon claimed victory in the Challenge Tour’s Le Vaudreuil Challenge and completed the hat-trick with that maiden European Tour victory in Hamburg.
His first two rounds in Germany were played alongside Oliver Wilson and his response? A victory of his own on the Challenge Tour a week later.
Meanwhile McEvoy’s next start was in the Nordea Masters and on the Sunday morning he found himself sat with Paul Waring at breakfast. A few hours later Waring was lifting his own first European Tour title.
The European Tour’s Chief Executive Officer Keith Pelley met the press on Saturday morning and there was particular focus on the British Masters, which at one stage looked set to drop off the 2019 schedule due to a lack of sponsor.
This is an event, remember, which basked in post-Ryder Cup glory, that is hosted by huge and popular names on the British sporting landscape, which has drawn massive galleries and the game itself could hardly be in ruder health at the top level (there are eight Britons in the world’s top 50 and 13 in the top 100).
It begs the question: if you can’t find a sponsor in Britain right now, when the hell could you?!
— Matt Cooper (@MattCooperGolf) November 4, 2018
Pelley’s answer suggests a new landscape for the European Tour when it comes to event promotion and organisation. Born of necessity rather than choice? Yes, he admitted, going on to explain why the Tour itself is backing the British Masters next May, one of many such ventures in the future.
“Nobody has come in as title sponsor,” he admitted. “Yet we have quite a few partners that have come in. The way I look at it, our business is quite simple. We have generated, from a sponsorship perspective, somewhere around 40 million in 2016, and it was 70 million in 2017.
“We have completed 15 of 17 broadcast deals in the last year. We had 18 broadcast deals that were expiring. We have a couple of other announcements from a broadcasting perspective from a digital side that will be announced shortly.
“So our revenue continues to grow from a digital perspective, a sponsorship perspective, a broadcasting side, and we use it to fund tournaments. Our objective is to support tournaments that we feel that are beneficial to our players and that particular region.
“Take, for example, the Belgian Knockout. That was a conversation I had with Thomas Pieters. We supported that tournament this year and we will support it next year at a lower rate in the hopes of it will be self-sustainable long term.
“Our philosophy is also changing based on the fact that it is tougher and tougher to create golf tournaments. IMG is no longer taking the risk in putting on golf tournaments and Lagardère has come out of Sweden, so it’s tougher and tougher.
“So now we operate and run 15 tournaments, which is significantly up from where we were, say four or five, when I got here. How we operate our business has changed yet it’s also providing great opportunities.”
Pelley remained bullish about the Rolex Series, his pet initiative and one which he believes will continue to grow. Doubters point out that plenty of big names are not playing this week (or next) and I wonder if the overall approach (throwing lots and lots of money around) is not a little skewed (whilst admitting that I may also be a little naive).
However when I think of the PGA and European Tours I’m often reminded of the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They were lavish, money-strewn affairs which left onlookers gasping, not only at the brilliance of them, but also in wondering just how London could possibly compete with the spectacle.
The answer was: by being smart. The director of those ceremonies Danny Boyle didn’t try to out-do the exuberant riches of Beijing. Instead he focused on making London’s celebrations altogether different. The focus was on heritage, humour, diversity and narrative. The result was a complete winner, but one which never actually engaged in a battle with Beijing.
I wonder if the European Tour shouldn’t do something similar? Will it ever be a financial match for the PGA Tour? Almost certainly not. Can it produce heritage, humour, diversity and narrative which sets it apart? Without doubt.
For part one of the Turkish Airlines Open Diary click here – featuring Padraig Harrington on the differences between America and Europe, the difficulty of range practice and his legacy, plus Tapio Pulkkanen’s Turkish Tales.
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