We are less than a week away from the resumption of men’s professional golf. That happens with the Charles Schwab Challenge at the Colonial at Forth Worth in Texas.
An extremely strong field will be in attendance, including the Top 5 players of the world starting with Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm to Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson. Seventeen of the Top 20 on the FedExCup standings are in the field that has a ‘Major-like’ feel.
McIlroy has been on a run of seven straight Top 5 finishes including a win at WGC-HSBC, while Rahm, has had seven Top-10s, including two wins and two seconds in his last eight starts.
Rahm’s chase of McIlroy was halted by COVID-19, which led to golf being frozen in its tracks in the middle of March with the cancellation of the PLAYERS after the first round on 15 March.
The Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), too, froze at that stage. Now almost three months on, they will resume on 14 June at the Charles Schwab Challenge.
Normally, the resumption of golf would be a matter of joy. However, many players and some Tours, notably in Europe, have been upset at OWGR Points being resumed.
It is only the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tours that are rebooting this coming week. The European Tour resumes in July and the Asian and Japan Tours are likely to start even later.
That will naturally seem to put the players in Europe, Asia and Japan at a disadvantage. They could slip down the rankings ladder while mid to lower-rung PGA and Korn Ferry Tour players gain points in the four-odd weeks that others are not playing.
Meanwhile, the European Tour has come out with a part of its “reworked” schedule, which starts with six events in the UK Swing, and each carries a purse of a million euros each. When that happens we could have another situation.
Who will be able to come and play the UK Swing? Will players from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Scandinavia be able to cross border? Will the Asians and Australians be able to fly into UK? Are they willing to endure a 14-day quarantine, if that is in place when the Tour restarts in UK? So, barring the English players, others still don’t know where they will be at the start on the UK Swing.
Coming back to the awarding of OWGR points in US while others are not getting to play, it might sound unfair, but it is actually a no-win situation.
The PGA Tour is at an advantage because of the ease of travel — they are going around in just one country and the players are among the highest-ranked players in the world. An estimate suggests that only about 25-30 players who hold playing rights on the PGA Tour are outside United States right now – India’s Anirban Lahiri being one of them.
It is well-known that players set up a US base — temporary or permanent — as soon as they earn a PGA Tour card. McIlroy and Rahm live in US as do Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia and many others; Justin Rose and Adam Scott are a stone’s throw away in the Bahamas. Many others like Shane Lowry and Rafa Cabrera-Bello stayed on in US when the lockdown happened.
Even some Asian stars like Jazz Janewattananond and An Byeong-hun have been in US, while some like Lahiri and Kiradech Aphibarnrat chose to head back to India and Thailand respectively. In the case of Lahiri, he was due to play his home Open, the Hero Indian Open, which got postponed and Lahiri stayed on with his family in India. Now they are waiting for flight restrictions to be removed to fly back and play in the US.
So, in a situation when a majority of the world’s best are playing — even with no fans — not having OWGR points might seem unfair to the players in the US. Since they happen to be the biggest and strongest — as stars and as a group — they have had their way with OWGR points.
The CEO of the European Tour, Keith Pelley did fight hard to ‘stall’ the award of OWGR points, but he was hopelessly outnumbered.
Competition is due to begin in Europe in the second half of July with a series of six events — all in the UK — with reduced purses of €1 million each. Frankly, that would hardly be attractive enough for some of the top Europeans including world No 10 Tommy Fleetwood. Yet Fleetwood may now be forced to play them if he cannot go to the US, else he might have gone over to the US as soon as he could and compete on the PGA Tour whenever possible. Lowry and Garcia, regular members on PGA Tour, will do just that, as will Rose and many others.
The South Africans, if they are not back home, will try and get to their ‘jobs’ as soon as possible, instead of flying to Europe for ‘UK Swing’. We all know that how difficult it was for events, even with 2-3 million and more, to attract the top European players to play on the continent. Harsh as it may sound, but that really is a fact.
That leaves with one more question of what happens to Ryder Cup points and qualification for Majors. The method to select Ryder Cup players for the European team is in the hands of Europe, so they can work out an agreeable way. As for the Majors, the Masters has already said it will still have players, who on the basis of their rankings and status on 15 March would have qualified for Masters. So their place is secure even they fall in rankings over next few months.
COVID-19 has taught us many lessons. But some are mere reiterations of what we already knew: Life is not fair. It never was. Now more than ever.