It has been a rough month for the European Tour, and it got worse Monday.
Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, one of the most prominent European golfers of the past five years, says that playing the European Tour is "priority no. 2" at this point in his career because he needs to play more in the United States, given his priority with the PGA Tour.
McDowell made the 2014 European Ryder Cup team, but struggled greatly in 2015, earning less than $1 million on the PGA Tour for the first time since 2009. Having had just one year left of PGA Tour exemption, McDowell felt forced into playing events like last weekend’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba. It worked out well for him, to the tune of a third career Tour victory. Nonetheless, he had already made the decision to transition away from a heavy schedule on the European Tour.
"No disrespect to the European Tour, but I had to take my focus off of that for the time being because my priority, I basically lost my [PGA Tour] card this year," McDowell said.
"I will remain loyal to the European Tour always, I want to play Ryder Cups, but there’s no doubt that that’s priority No. 2 for me," McDowell continued. "Priority No. 1 is having a job and having the best-paying job available when you boil it down." When you "boil it down," that "best paying job" means more PGA Tour and less European Tour for McDowell, whose family lives in America as well.
Competing enough to retain status on both tours has proven difficult for players in terms of time off, fatigue, etc., and recently, they’ve been discussing it publicly. Paul Casey and Brooks Koepka both surrendered their European Tour cards in favor of playing a loaded PGA Tour schedule. Ian Poulter said the only draw to the European Tour was that it’s a requirement for membership on the European Ryder Cup team. McDowell is just the most recent to speak up, noting his desire to get a better start on the PGA Tour money list. It was all part of a changed strategy for him.
In an attempt to make it easier for players to retain European Tour status -- and perhaps somewhat of a response to declining interest in that tour -- the European Tour announced earlier this month they would loosen requirements for maintaining membership. Whether that works for the tour remains to be seen, but the 2016 European Ryder Cup roster might suffer as a result.