Golf: Over the water torture

Andy Farrell argues money and competition spell danger for Schofield; Leonard's Open triumph is the tip of threatening American iceberg for a European Tour playing catch-up again
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The Independent Online
What is it Americans have about Royal Troon? They cannot stop winning there. For 35 years, from Arnold Palmer to Justin Leonard, via the Toms Weiskopf and Watson and Mark Calcavecchia, they have dominated at the Ayrshire links.

Of course, they used to have an unshakeable hold on the Open trophy, but Calcavecchia's win in 1989 was an oasis in a desert of American success. He was the first US winner since Watson picked up the last of his five at Birkdale in 1983, and the last until John Daly won at St Andrews in 1995. Since then, normal service has resumed, Tom Lehman winning at Lytham last year and now Leonard.

The year of 1994, when none of the four major championships ended up in American hands, seems a long time ago. That was also the last year to see major victories by European Tour players in Jose Maria Olazabal at the Masters and Ernie Els at the US Open. Els immediately joined the US PGA Tour, while Nick Faldo had quit Europe before winning the 1996 Masters. Els rejoined the European Tour this year before winning at Congressional, but he is firmly American based.

As likeable and welcome here as Els is, it is a shame that the European Tour seem readier to acclaim the South African's successes than Jesper Parnevik's. The Swede noticeably snubbed a referee from the European Tour who was to act as rules official for his group at Troon.

Parnevik earned his US Tour card from the Qualifying School in 1993, and in the last three years he has finished 120th, 84th and 53rd on the US money list. "The reason I went to America was to become a better player," he said. "The reason I decided to play there full time was because it was too tiring going backwards and forwards. I wanted to play in major championships and that is difficult when you finish 20th in Europe and 50th in America."

Two things irk Parnevik. In 1995, he came back to play more events in an attempt to qualify for the Ryder Cup team. The implication from captain Bernard Gallacher was that it would be looked on favourably, but when Olazabal pulled out, the extra space went to Ian Woosnam. Then last year, a ruling came in that only European tour members could earn Ryder Cup points. Faldo was exempt as an honorary member of the Tour (due to his major wins). Never mind that Parnevik, from only six events, would be in the top 10 of the points list if his name was included. As it is, he may have to fight for one of Seve Ballesteros's two wild cards with Faldo and possibly one or both of Olazabal and Costantino Rocca.

Heading west was a well-worn path in the days when the European Tour could not compete in terms of tournaments - it did not start until after the Masters - or money. While Ken Schofield and his team, on the back of the Ryder Cup victories, have done magnificently to give the Tour parity, it might be about to fall behind again.

The US Tour has the players: not only the ageing superstars, Norman, Faldo, Price, Couples, but also acres of younger talent led by Tiger Woods and Els. Leonard is one of a number of bright young Americans who have appeared on the scene recently. Others are Jim Furyk, David Duval, Tommy Tolles, Paul Stankowski, Steve Stricker and Tim Herron.

Europe can offer an equally impressive list of new-wave players, but it is in America where they will find the necessary competition to improve. And when the US Tour's new television contracts begin in 1999, there will be far more money to play for. The deals, negotiated earlier this year on the back of Woods' Masters triumph, mean that the prize funds, currently averaging $1.5 million, could double.

Darren Clarke, who like Parnevik has shown a tendency for near-misses rather than victories this year, but is assured of his Ryder Cup berth, won enough at Troon to take up his US Tour card. He is 60th on the US money list, while Lee Westwood, who has finished 14th, 19th and 10th in the three majors this year, needs one more good finish at the US PGA to gain his.

"The plan was for them to possibly go to the US Qualifying School at the end of the year, but things are changing so fast," said Andrew Chandler, their manager. "They have done so well the goalposts keep moving." Rather than take up their cards, Chandler thinks they will be in a position to play eight or nine times a year on invitations.

"First, they still have to become multiple winners in Europe and we'd be stupid not to take notice of what has happened to players like Alex Cejka, Michael Campbell and Robert Allenby, who have tried to play on both tours. Darren certainly doesn't see his future in America. But they might spend a season there in a non-Ryder Cup year like 2000."

But with Olazabal and Montgomerie also likely to play more, if not full- time, in America in the future, the Ryder Cup points system will have to be revamped. Now that the world rankings are endorsed by the European Tour, as well as the other main golfing bodies, that could be one alternative (Parnevik, in 15th place, is the third-ranked European.) Alternatively more wild cards need to be offered, which is an argument which has taken up most of this year.

Ryder Cup standings

1 T Woods 1165.000pts; 2 T Lehman 1016.286; 3 J Leonard 888.500; 4 J Furyk 837.500; 5 M O'Meara 801.250; 6 B Faxon 727.500; 7 S Hoch 721.953; 8 T Tolles 689.286; 9 P Mickelson 659.286; 10 D Love III, 657.167; 11 S Jones 579.286; 12 J Maggert 566.625; 13 M Brooks 549.750; 14 P Stankowski 503.333; 15 D Duval 470.000; 16 F Couples 458.036; 17 T Watson 433.667; 18 M Bradley 402.500; 19 J Cook 376.000; 20= K Perry, S Stricker, 372.500.

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