Who cares where Europe's Ryder Cup stars play? Just get them on the team
Call me naïve, but when I watch the Ryder Cup I like to think that it is a match where the 12 best American golfers take on the 12 best European golfers.
My team is Europe, and that is who I support as a fan. The opposition is the might of the USA.
What I do not see this match being, in any way, is a competition between the PGA Tour and the European Tour.
Because that would be ridiculous, not to mention something of a mismatch.
A recurring narrative from those labouring under the misapprehension that we should be supporting Team European Tour is that those who have qualified for the team by dint of their performances on said circuit – under a system designed by the European Tour, which administers the event on this side of the Atlantic as the majority partner alongside the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland and the PGAs of Europe – are somehow more worthy than those whose entry is via the world rankings.
Yet for the majority of our team, and this has been the case for several years now, home is America and by extension their home tour is the PGA Tour.
Many passed through the European Tour on the way up. Some only briefly (Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia), some for longer (Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson).
One went to college in America and from there directly on to the PGA Tour (Jon Rahm). Another came ‘home’ briefly in between (Paul Casey).
Others, you suspect, having hitherto played largely on the European Tour, will play much more in America in the coming years (Thorbjorn Olesen). Some have already started to do so (Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood).
That only leaves Francesco Molinari, who has long played more or less a full European Tour schedule and travelled to America only for the very biggest events. Whether being the Open champion will change his thinking at all is debatable.
If I am supporting the European Tour in Paris, then, I could be struggling. It’s basically Molinari and Olesen against the rest.
(That said, by the same curious logic, I’d be really excited about the prospects of England, as represented by the Premier League, in the next World Cup.)
Now here’s the rub. Up until now, our best players have always been happy, or at least amenable, to towing the line.
They broadly accept that, regardless of where they play, their spiritual home remains the European Tour and they go along with what is, at face value, a rather odd qualifying system.
They show solidarity because they know better than we do that the European Tour is hugely reliant on the Ryder Cup, and specifically home matches, to prosper, if not survive.
In 2010, when the Ryder Cup was played in Wales, the tour made a profit of £14 million. In 2011, a non-Ryder Cup year, they lost £2.2m.
In addition to this, Ryder Cup venues like the K Club, Celtic Manor, Gleneagles and Le Golf National have also had to agree to stage regular tournaments for years on end and stump up millions of pounds in prize money for them.
Is it really beyond the realms, in these uncertain times, when so many of the old orthodoxies are being challenged, to suggest that a time could come when a leading player decides it is not his job to sustain a tour that he perhaps barely played on?
Or at least to question why five places – almost half the team – should go to those playing on a tour he only rarely deigns to compete on?
He might think that world rankings points earned is a fairer way to decide it.
Or that, as in most other team sports, it is the coach’s job to pick the team.
After all, Didier Deschamps didn’t pick his strikers for France’s World Cup squad based purely on goals scored in the Ligue 1 any more than Joe Schmidt will select Six Nations champions Ireland’s squad for next year’s Rugby World Cup purely on tries and tackles recorded.
Or even, to go nuclear, he might conclude that the Ryder Cup is not the be-all and end-all for him as an individual sportsman. Especially when he isn’t getting paid – at least not directly – for his troubles.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but I don’t consider it a far-fetched proposition.
Either way, as a fan, I take a cold view of Thomas Bjorn’s wildcard picks.
I congratulate Matt Wallace wholeheartedly on his achievement of winning three times on the European Tour this season. To suggest that makes him ‘deserving’ – a loaded word – of a pick is plain odd.
In my opinion, having barely played in a major or a WGC, he still isn’t one of our best dozen golfers, which is all that counts.
It may be that in picking Garcia, especially, and to a lesser extent Casey, Bjorn has leant too heavily on past glories. And we can only hope that Stenson is fit enough – and sufficiently match-ready – to show his true colours.
But when I look at the composition of Bjorn’s side for Paris all I care about is whether it comprises the 12 best players that Europe can currently muster.
Anything beyond that is politics.