Event: UBS Hong Kong Open
Date: November 23-26
Location: Hong Kong GC, Fanling, Hong Kong
No sooner had the 2017 European Tour ended with Tommy Fleetwood capturing the Race to Dubai title, players were en route to the first event of the 2018 season.
It kicks off at the UBS Hong Kong Open - where Aussie Sam Brazel will defend his title - but, ahead of the new European Tour season, what are the key things you should be keeping an eye on?
We've taken a look...
Will the golden era for English golf continue?
Of the 48 winners on the European Tour last season, ten were English. That’s more than any other nation. With emerging talent such as Jordan Smith and Matt Wallace gaining their maiden wins in 2017 and 13 Englishmen qualifying for the tour through both the Challenge Tour and Q-School, that success shows no signs of letting up.
Multiple winners in 2017 Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood, though, as well as Omega European Masters champion Matt Fitzpatrick, have all stressed their desire to play more in the States next year.
And could 2018 see the first Scottish win in over two years?
You have to go all the way back to Russell Knox at the 2015 WGC-HSBC Champions for the last Scottish winner on the European Tour – and even he wasn’t even a tour member at that point.
But after a career-best Race to Dubai finish of 26th for Scott Jamieson and Richie Ramsay’s best season since 2012 – coupled with the arrival on the tour of young guns Connor Syme, 22, and Bradley Neil, 21 – there is growing optimism that we’ll see a Scot in the winner’s circle in 2018.
Aaron's dad emailed us to ask if we could do something for his 9th birthday 🎂— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) May 26, 2017
We decided to do something special. pic.twitter.com/MRTLr4luEx
How does the European Tour 1-UP a sensational year of content?
“We really believe at The European Tour that we are a content entertainment company where our players are performers and golf is the platform.” Those were the words of European Tour chief Keith Pelley on Sunday. Yes, the Canadian has his doubters and critics – but what can’t be knocked is his willingness to stick to his guns in the quest for golf to reach new audiences.
The ‘Aaron’s Best Day’ video (above) reached over 30 million people, with Pelley adamant that the best content comes from ‘showcasing players in a completely different light’. So, expect more of the same.
And, as for pre-tournament events like the Hero Challenge, they’re likely to continue along with possible ‘rival match-ups’, such as Sweden vs Denmark ahead of the Nordea Masters and Scotland vs England ahead of the Scottish Open. Watch this space.
How many Q-School grads will keep their cards?
The 2018 season signals an attempt from the European Tour to help improve the number of Q-School graduates who will retain their status for 2019. In 2017, the Access List was introduced but scrapped following the season after only three graduates – Edoardo Molinari, Eddie Pepperell and Ashley Chesters – kept their cards.
The new re-ranking system will attempt to improve that number by rewarding in-form players ahead of the BMW PGA Championship in May and Irish Open in July. The key, though, for those players is to hit the ground running.
With a lot of the big names shutting down now until the Desert Swing in late January, the grads need to make the most of the next couple of months while they have the momentum picked up through strong Q-School performances.
Will the tour’s Shot Clock Masters have the desired effect?
No tour has ever made the attempt to tackle slow play. But the European Tour will buck that trend next year in the inaugural Shot Clock Masters in Austria from June 7-10. Eight-time Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie hailed the move – which will see a 50 or 40-second time limit for players on every shot – but just how successful will it prove to be?
Will it make players think more seriously about their pace of play? And how many big names will lend their support by teeing it up in the event? Without any marquee names, the event is unlikely to have that desired effect.
Where will the British Masters be held?
Eleven months until the 2018 British Masters, there still isn’t any confirmation as to where the event will be held. The reason for that, Pelley says, is because discussions are underway to possibly elevate it to a Rolex Series event.
What we do know is that Justin Rose is the host, following on from Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. Being a Hampshire lad, it seems fairly certain that the event will take place somewhere in the south of England – but where?
Well, Walton Heath – a European qualifying venue for the US Open – is rumoured to be the favourite. Rose also has a link-up with Golf at Goodwood, while The Centurion Club has also been mooted.
What will the Rolex Series look like this time next year?
It’s been difficult to gauge just how successful the inaugural Rolex Series has been. Pelley acknowledged that there’s still ‘a lot of progress to make’ but believes it is well on the way to becoming a viable alternative to the PGA Tour.
A key aim of Pelley’s now though must be to attract more PGA Tour players – specifically Americans – to play in Rolex Series events. At the moment, getting acclimatised to links golf ahead of The Open by playing either the Irish Open or Scottish Open seems to be one of the only reasons for US-based players to compete in Rolex Series events. That needs to change if Pelley is serious about it becoming a 'viable' alternative.
Also worth noting is that the events are bunched together better in 2018 – with the Italian Open following the week after the BMW PGA Championship - while another of Pelley's objective seems to be raising the number of events from eight to ten.