Ken Brown is a nice man. His calm persona and soft tones make him truly interesting in a world where media commentators are often bellowing tripe in an effort to be heard. Ken doesn’t want to be heard. I get the impression he just likes to talk and pass on his knowledge free of any ambitions outside of personal contentment. To confirm this he offered to send me his book in the post, free of charge. I didn’t know he had released one when we spoke in the airport on my way back from Prague. I enjoyed listening to him talk about his views on putting. It was refreshing to hear someone talk about the intuitive, instinctive nature of putting, as opposed to the scientific approach we see so much of these days. I’m not saying one is right over the other, it’s just nice to have a balance of ideas floating around.
An interesting thing happened to me at The USPGA. I was on the putting green before the tournament started, on the Tuesday I think, and Marcel Siem was there with his putting coach, Phil Kenyon. I was putting to a hole and they inadvertently stood in the way of where I was putting to. Marcel hadn’t realised, but Phil had. We exchanged a few words jokingly as both Phil and my caddie Jamie, suffer from ‘Heightitus B’. Anyway, Marcel by this time stopped what he was doing, looked up and said, of me, “What’s his problem now, are we playing for too much money?” I didn’t say anything although I did think it was a strange thing to say. Now my intention isn’t to make Marcel look like a bad guy. We all say things and make irrational comments, myself included. But I thought about the comment afterwards for a while and attempted to break it down.
Let’s look at some facts, bearing in mind I’ve never said we play for too much money, god forbid; The average wage in the UK, after tax, is around £26,500. Last year I earned nearly ten times that. People roughly my age who will leave university in the next five years will likely leave with debts of between £30,000 to £40,000. I just paid off my mortgage. The comment Marcel made represents the sheer blindness to the inequality that exists today. We play for staggering amounts of money, let alone the amounts some players receive in sponsorship. Again, I don’t think Marcel is a bad person in saying what he said, he just simply reflects the attitudes many sportsmen and elite people carry; that money rules. The narrative that’s been laid in front of us in recent decades is that money does rule, and unfortunately to a large extent it does. But to suggest somebody is in the wrong for suggesting we should maybe care for sharing some of the wealth, is indicative of the rampant individualistic approach too many wealthy people share.
The European Tour announced last week that discussions are ongoing with The Asian Tour, with the possibility of merging in the future. The merging appears necessary. What wasn’t inevitable however was who The Asian Tour would initially merge with, whether it be The PGA Tour or The European Tour. I was told they had a choice and chose The European Tour. This is good news I think on the whole for the game of golf. Firstly at the top, because it lessens the chance of a “World Tour” developing, which wouldn’t diversify the money involved in golf the way it currently does and will continue to in the future. It’s also good news because I think more players representing different nationalities will progress to the higher tiers golf, adding to the already extensive list of countries represented on the European Tour. At a grass roots level, in a time where golf participation is falling, particularly in the UK, this shift eastwards, to booming economies (or so it seemed) will open the game up to more people.
There may however be another side to the coin. While the PGA Tour may (or may not) feel aggrieved by this decision, they could prosper heavily in the form of players. The fact remains that top golfers do not enjoy travelling east like they do west, unless the money is huge, often or always guaranteed, or the tournament forces them, like the HSBC Champions event, which by the way, also ensures hefty income. The chances are that we will end up seeing at least another five to ten events added to the schedule that are played in the far-east. These events, while they may end up being strong events with good purses, almost certainly won’t match what The PGA Tour can offer.
This is where a potential problem lies. In an attempt to do good business, and ensure players play for better prize money, The European Tour may eventually achieve both, but not without casualties. The business will improve, but all of the big current players, and future ones who are British and European, will move to the US full time. The only way the big players will turn up is if they receive huge sums to do so. But with so many more events likely to be held in Asia, I don’t foresee all of the sponsors paying out millions of dollars to get them top players to turn up. If this is the case then obviously The PGA Tour will be an even more desirable destination for golfers who reach the top.
Sportsmen are entertainers, we want to perform to people and show what we can do. Nothing is more exhilarating. The money is superficial. You could’ve put me on the 17th tee at St Andrews with nothing but a fiver on the line, yet with the crowds, the experience still would’ve been incredible. It’s unfortunate that the only way to ensure survival these days it seems, is to seek to gain financially.