Should we feel sympathy?

Article also published on the Golf Monthly Website

Coverage of the final round of the South African Open yesterday was full of stories of players narrowly securing, or narrowly failing to secure, their 2012 European Tour playing privileges.

Richard McEvoy managed to grab his place on next year’s circuit by firing a closing 68 to end the week tied third. He climbed from 121st to 107th on the money list. The top 115 gain a card for next year, but players down to 118th might be safe owing to various exemptions coming into effect.

Gareth Maybin of Northern Ireland didn’t do enough to move up into a card-winning spot but he will have one last chance to do so in this week’s Hong Kong Open.

It was from two Scots that the real hard-luck stories of the tournament came. Steven O’Hara led the event after 36-holes and needed a top-three to save his card. But he fell away over the weekend and finished in 25th place.

Lloyd Saltman required a par at the last to finish in joint third. It would have pushed him right to the edge of the top 120 and earned him a start in Hong Kong next week. That would have provided a real chance of gaining playing rights for 2012 as many of those around the bubble are not in the Hong Kong field.

But the 2005 Open Silver Medallist suffered a disastrous double bogey on the 18th. It dropped him from third to ninth and meant he will now be making a trip to Q School next month.

As I watched this unfold I found myself feeling sorry for both Saltman and O’Hara. This was probably something to do with the hangover I was nursing making me a touch emotional. It was also a great deal to do with the fact I was being brainwashed into feeling sympathy for them by the TV pundits.

Between them, the Sky commentators make the loss of playing rights and a trip to Tour School seem like a fate worse than death. From the way they talk about it you begin to wonder if Steven O’Hara will be able to feed his family next year.

But then I thought about it more and did a little internet-based research. Steven O’Hara has earned €198,000 from the European Tour events he’s competed in this season. He’s earned almost €2 million on the circuit in the last 10 years. OK, he will have spent €50,000 or a bit more each year in expenses. But that’s still a six figure average pre-tax profit per annum.

Saltman has also earned just less than €200k in prizemoney this year – pretty good for a 26-year-old when you consider that the average annual salary in the UK is £25,000 and very few are enjoying what they’re doing to gather that sum.

So why on earth would I feel sorry for guys making €100k plus a year to do something I would pay to do? I should just feel envy.

I suppose, they do have to go and play six rounds at PGA Catalunya – one of the best tracks in continental Europe where green fees are up to €100. That’s a bit of a bind. At least they’ll have a few of their mates there. That should make the experience more bearable.

And if they do well at Catalunya they’ll be in line to pick up huge sums of money again all next year – it sounds a pretty good prospect to me. If they don’t quite make it, they’ll get a few European Tour starts, Challenge Tour status and will have a bit more time at home to practice, play with their pals and look towards better things in 2013. Let’s be honest, life’s not so bad.

I think times have changed on the European Tour in recent years. When John Hawksworth, Wayne Riley or Tony Johnstone speak about the struggles of the golfer fighting to retain his card, they’re remembering their own playing days.

In 1990, when all three of those guys were on the circuit, Ross McFarlane finished the season in 120th on the money list and earned just €34,000. Manuel Calero who was 133rd (the same spot Lloyd Saltman has finished his campaign this year) picked up only €27,000.

So Lloyd has earned €168,000 more than Manuel did – that’s a 620% increase. Given that inflation in the UK since 1990 is more like 70%, we can safely say that players narrowly missing out on their card this year are in a far better position than they were 20 years ago.

I agree, it must be hugely disappointing for a player if he just misses out on full rights on the lucrative main tour, and it’s the job of the commentators on Sky to add excitement by making the battle for European Tour playing rights seem like a matter of life and death.

But let’s have some perspective. If I’d spent the year playing golf in exotic locations around the world, and had been paid €200,000 to do it, I wouldn’t be feeling sorry and I wouldn’t be expecting anyone else to on my behalf.

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2 comments
  1. Sure it’s heartbreaking for the guys who barely miss the main tour. It’s their chosen profession and they love it. You kind of have to feel a little bad for them, but I’m certainly not out losing sleep over their problems, just like they aren’t losing sleep when I don’t get a writing job I’ve been hoping for. Maybe if I ever start making what they make I’ll be able to sympathize a little more.

  2. Agreed. If I ever started making €200k a year from writing I might change my tune… I’m not holding my breath!

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