That was the week that was.
The week that saw the European Ryder Cup team completed with the addition of four experienced players who have earned the privilege of being able to ply their trade internationally at the expense of in-form, younger, ‘domestic’ talents.
Opinion has been divided over the picks made by captain Thomas Bjorn. Most contentious was the decision to leave out England’s Matt Wallace. Fair enough, some say. The only way to ensure your place in the side is to qualify automatically. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of one man’s decision-making.
That man is under immense pressure to deliver a victory, not just for the gratification of inter-Continental bragging rights, but for his own future earnings. It is reckoned that a victorious European Ryder Cup captain can earn north of €2million from the match, through media work, golf course design opportunities and renegotiation of existing sponsorship deals.
That’s not to say fiscal matters in any way influenced Bjorn’s decision-making. It’s just worth noting how high and far-reaching the stakes are.
Still, Wallace has every right to feel aggrieved. He proved himself last week to be somebody who can deliver when everything is on the line - if that’s not the sort of person who you would want on a Ryder Cup team…
However, this is about more than Matt Wallace. It’s about what message overlooking him sends to the rest of the players who play primarily on the European Tour – and what those implications could be for the tour itself.
The circuit is hugely dependent on the Ryder Cup. Richard Hills, the outgoing Ryder Cup director for the European Tour, has previously described it as ‘one of the financial locomotives of the tour’ and ‘central to our television negotiations’.
In Ryder Cup years, the tour makes a profit. In non-Ryder Cup years, it loses money. The numbers we’re talking about are hardly pocket-change, too. It is reckoned that the 2014 match at Gleneagles brought in £70m for the European Tour, up from £50m in 2006 and £60m in 2010. This year’s match is expected to push the contribution close to the £100m mark.
That’s down in no small part to the strong commercial partnerships the tour has fostered. This year’s Ryder Cup has four official partners: Aberdeen Standard Investments, BMW, Emirates and Rolex. There are also 13 official suppliers, five official European team suppliers, and 12 official licensees.
In short: the European Tour is sustained by the Ryder Cup - yet, for its members, playing almost exclusively on the tour is the weakest route to a place on the European team.
That’s a weird paradox.
If a guy who wins three times in a single European Tour season can’t get on the European Ryder Cup team, what motivation is there for players to build a career on the ‘tier two’ events that the circuit can ill-afford to do without?
Here’s a suggestion
Let's call it ‘The Matt Wallace Rule’.
It’s very simple: any eligible player who wins three or more times in a defined qualifying period during a Ryder Cup year qualifies automatically for the side.
Think of it like the Challenge Tour rule, whereby a player who wins three times on Europe’s second tier in a single season gains automatic promotion to the European Tour.
The players who win three times take away a place from those who qualify for the European Ryder Cup team through the World Points List, thereby protecting the European Points List, the captains’ picks, and, in an indirect way, the European Tour itself.
To explore how workable a solution this might be, I’ve looked at data for the last 15 editions of the Ryder Cup, going all the way back to 1987.
I set a ‘qualifying period’ of the first event in October through to and including the final event of the following August.
For this year’s match, for example, I gave an automatic place on the team to any European player who won three individual events on the European Tour international schedule from the 2017 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship through to last week’s Made In Denmark.
Wallace was the only player to fit that bill and would have, as a result, taken the place of Thorbjorn Olesen.
No player would have qualified by virtue of the ‘Matt Wallace Rule’ in 2016, with Rory McIlroy the only player to win three times in the equivalent qualifying period for the 2014 match.
Equally, there were no ‘Matt Wallace Rule’ beneficiaries in 2008, 2010 or 2012 but Sweden’s Johan Edfors – the winner of three tour titles in 2006 – would have qualified for the match at The K Club the expense of Jose Maria Olazabal.
Across the eight matches between 1987 and 2004, there were 12 players who would have qualified via the ‘Matt Wallace Rule’ – all of whom made the team in any case, and so the point is moot.
The real point, though, is that as the tour becomes increasingly international and the depth of the competition increases, the number of players who would qualify this way is reducing. Winning once per season is hard enough, never mind twice. Three times? The fact that it has happened just twice in the last eight Ryder Cup years (using my qualifying period) tells you how rare it is.
Another word for ‘rare’? Special.
Don’t special achievements deserve acknowledgement?
Don’t players, such as Wallace, who play more ‘regular’ (i.e. non major, non WGC) European Tour events in a season than the four players picked ahead of him combined, deserve to be rewarded?
Wouldn’t this incentivise them to continue to show support to the tour?
And in the longer term, doesn’t all this strengthen the European Tour?
I believe the ‘Matt Wallace Rule’ is a feasible and logical solution to a problem that the European Tour hadn’t foreseen. It prevents weird anomalies like this year from happening again.
And isn’t that in everyone’s best interests?