So long, Europe; hello, PGA

The Associated PressNovember 22, 2012 

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The European Tour has no problem producing star players. Keeping them is the challenge.

Seven players from Europe’s Ryder Cup team are PGA Tour members. Five have made the United States their main residence, and the list is only growing.

Martin Kaymer, a former world No. 1 and past PGA Championship winner, announced this week that he’s joining the PGA Tour. Lee Westwood is moving from England to Florida. And big-hitting Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium told The Associated Press that he will cut his European Tour events to the minimum 13 next year so he can play a full schedule in America.

“It’s a stronger tour and you have the best players in America,” Colsaerts said Wednesday. “This is perfect timing for me. I’ve had a pretty good year over here and it’s maybe time to have a taste of somewhere else, see if I like it and see if it’s the tour I will be playing for the next couple of years.”

Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell and Peter Hanson already were based in Florida, with Donald splitting time between Florida and Chicago. Hanson finally earned enough money this year to take up PGA Tour membership, though he had been living at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla.

European Tour chief executive George O’Grady said the departure of so many stars was a testament to the quality of players in Europe and the increasing openness of the U.S. tour to take them.

But he agreed that keeping the top talent requires larger amounts of prize money, an increasingly difficult prospect at a time when the financial crisis led this year to the loss of four European Tour events in Spain and one in the Czech Republic.

“We are concerned, but not panicking,” O’Grady said. “We have to improve our game back here in heartland Europe, make our tournaments better and that also means richer.”

Kaymer, Colsaerts and Hanson will be full PGA Tour members for the first time next year, meaning the U.S. tour will have 28 of the top 30 players in the world ranking. Also joining is Ryo Ishikawa of Japan and David Lynn of England.

“The U.S. tour is an attractive tour. You play in one place and it’s quite an easy tour to travel around,” said Donald, who won an NCAA title at Northwestern. “Europe is becoming increasingly difficult. … They have done well to create a schedule with lots of events in Asia, but it has its disadvantages through travel. You can’t blame any player for wanting to go play on the U.S. tour.”

Poulter, who has called Florida home for the past four years, said high-profile sponsors are needed to ensure the European Tour remains relevant.

“It’s a tough situation for the (European) tour to be in, and I really hope there’s a plan to help the tour get more big sponsors,” Poulter said. “Obviously, Europe in general as a continent is struggling. There’s not much money and it’s very hard to convince sponsors to put big tournaments on. I don’t think that trend is going to change just yet.”

Not every big name is ready to give up on the European Tour. McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world, still plans to take part.

“The European Tour gave me a lot of opportunities coming through, and it’s something that I’ll never forget and something that I’ll always hold onto,” said McIlroy.

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