The European Tour is introducing the Rolex Series this year, which starts in late May with the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and ends in late November with the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
The other events that make up the Rolex Series are Irish Open and Scottish Open in successive weeks ahead of the British Open; the Italian Open in October; and then the Turkish Airlines Open and Nedbank Challenge in South Africa leading into the finale in Dubai.
European Tour chief Keith Pelley said one goal was to create a product that “provides a strong financial offering for our young players so they don’t have to go to the United States.” All the tournaments will have a minimum $7 million purse.
While 2017 is the inaugural year of the Rolex Series and Pelley expects it to expand, he should get an early indication of its traction.
For starters, PGA Tour purses (minus the majors the World Golf Championships) average $7.06 million this season. Equally important are world ranking points, and the gap between the PGA Tour and the European Tour continues to grow.
PGA Tour events awarded an average of 57.4 points to the winner in 2016, up from 56.4 a year ago. The European Tour averaged 42 points for the winner, slightly down from 42.2 points last year.
Throw out the majors and WGCs, and the PGA Tour offered an average of 50.6 points compared with 32.9 points for European Tour events.
The BMW PGA Championship is considered the flagship event for Europe and is guaranteed to offer the winner 64 points (Jordan Spieth received 52 points for winning the Colonial, even though it had a much stronger field that week).
Among the rest of the regular European Tour events, the strongest fields were the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and the DP World Tour Championship, both offering 52 points to the winner. The PGA Tour had 17 regular events that offered 52 or more. That includes the FedEx Cup playoff events, which averaged 69 points for the winners. The first two FedEx Cup events offered 74 points, slightly below World Golf Championship level.
Europe at least hopes to build some momentum with the first part of the Rolex Series, particularly the stretch between the U.S. Open and British Open. The Irish Open and the Scottish Open last year offered 46 points to the winner. They will be up against The Greenbrier Classic (canceled last year because of flooding) and the John Deere Classic, which offers the smallest purse ($5.6 million) among PGA Tour events that earn full FedEx Cup points.
BUSINESS AND GOLF: Tiger Woods turns 41 on Friday, and while he didn’t play much this year, he kept busy reorganizing his business interests under one brand he called “TGR.” Woods referred to it as setting up “phase two” of his life.
Business and golf is nothing new with prominent players. In fact, Jack Nicklaus believes it helped his golf more than it was any type of distraction. Nicklaus left IMG and Mark McCormack in 1970 to set up his own business, and it never got in the way of competing or preparing for majors.
“I always did what I had to do,” Nicklaus said. “If my day was filled up with golf, it would be a boring day for me. I needed more stimulation. I think business and my family and some things I did on the outside created my away time, so that when I came back to play golf, then I really focused on it. If golf was all I had, I would have gotten lazy with it. I tried to be very efficient.”
MASTERS FIELD: Twelve more players were added to the field for the 2017 Masters by finishing in the top 50 in the final world ranking of the year.
Thongchai Jaidee was not among them. Needing a victory in the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship – an Asian Development Tour event in Thailand – to finish the year in the top 50, he missed out on a playoff by two shots and actually dropped two spots to No. 54.
Alex Noren, a four-time winner in Europe this year, started the year at No. 96 and ended it at No. 9 to earn his first Masters invitation. The others who made it through the world ranking published Monday were Tyrrell Hatton, Louis Oosthuizen, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Francesco Molinari, Yuta Ikeda, Chris Wood, Bernd Wiesberger, Bill Haas, Andy Sullivan, Byeong An and Thomas Pieters.
That puts the field at 82 players going into the start of 2017. The only way to get to Augusta National the next three months is to win a PGA Tour event (except for the Puerto Rico Open) or to be in the top 50 in the world ranking published March 27.
MAJOR CONTEXT: Jordan Spieth was talking about how the majors unfolded this year when in the middle of his answer, he realized the difference between a snapshot and a panoramic view of golf.
At the end of last year, the top three players in the world (Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day) had combined to win five of the previous six majors. With first-time winners at all four majors this year, eight players have won the last 10 majors, and first-timers have captured the last five.
“It’s just funny how it’s phrased because that makes it look completely different now than it did last year,” he said.
SPECIAL HATS: By now, everyone has seen the navy blue caps with “USA” on the front and the Ryder Cup logo on the back.
But there’s a limited edition of the caps that are hard to find. They feature another logo on the side of the cap that says, “Ryder Cup Champions.” The Americans won the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008, and only the second time dating to 1999.
The U.S. team was given a white version of cap at the celebration Sunday night at Hazeltine.
The PGA of America had about 250 caps made in navy, and most of those were distributed to the staff and those who attended a celebration at PGA of America headquarters when Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler came by with the gold trophy.
DIVOTS: The SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua will have only eight of the top 20 in the world. Five eligible players are not going (Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia), and the other seven did not win on the PGA Tour this year. … Jason Day wins his first Mark H. McCormack Award for being No. 1 for the most weeks of the year. Day has been No. 1 since winning the Dell Match Play the last week in March. … Sung Hung Park won six times this year, the most of any player on a tour. Park plays the Korea Tour. Hideki Matsuyama, Lydia Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn and Bo-Mee Lee (Japan LPGA) each won five times. … Alice Dye has been selected to receive the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects. She will be honored in May at the group’s annual meeting in Jupiter, Florida.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Three Americans who qualified for the Masters have never won a PGA Tour event – Daniel Summerhays, Kevin Chappell and Roberto Castro.
FINAL WORD: “He’s going to have to give me two shots.” – Jack Nicklaus, when told that President-elect Donald Trump has a handicap index of 2.8. Nicklaus has a 3.1, but he said it translates to a 5 because it was established at the difficult Bear’s Club in Florida.