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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: The ‘player drain’ from Europe to the PGA Tour is the natural order of things

The defending Open champion, Shane Lowry of Ireland.
The defending Open champion, Shane Lowry of Ireland.

You’d have to be a fairly contrary sort of character not to like Shane Lowry, still the Champion Golfer of the Year, of course, at least until July.

The Irishman is universally popular. There’s the ready smile, the affable nature, the rags-to-riches story (he won the Irish Open as an amateur to launch his career) and the down-to-earth character.

Add to that the apparently month-long celebration of his Open win at Portrush, and the string of epithets, sometimes picked up by the TV mics, that follow the occasional poor shot. The man from Offaly – he sponsors the county’s hurling team! – seems just like one of us.

Last week, he told my friend Greg Allen of Irish broadcaster RTE that he was moving to the US, and decision likely to provoke a certain amount of hand-wringing.

It was clearly a decision long in the thinking and one that needed sensitive handling – some in Ireland have still to forgive Rory McIlroy for “abandoning” his home shores and the European Tour. Shane’s popularity will help him, but really it shouldn’t be a factor anyway. There’s nothing to forgive.

Playing against the best

<br />Peter Oosterhuis And Nick Faldo were two of the first European players to base themselves in the US.

It was really neither a difficult decision nor an unexpected one. Firstly, Shane has reached a level of performance that requires him to play against the best as often as he can. This means – and always has meant – playing full-time on the PGA Tour.

It just makes sense, especially for a man with a young family, to live there too.

Some bemoan a “player drain” from Europe to the PGA Tour. They ignore that, but for a handful, the gravitation of Europe’s (and the World’s) best to the US circuit has been a permanent feature of golf since the 1970s.

The PGA Tour has always been the top payer, even more so now at levels that would make Croesus blush and don’t waver even in a pandemic when they are “forced” to sack 50 of their staff.

And Bob will go too, hopefully

When we spoke to him after the Masters, Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre had just finished a two-month run in the US, using his top 50 status and invitations for some starts. Ultimately, he wants to play more on the PGA Tour, and said as much.

However, he quickly added, he wanted to remain loyal to the European Tour. You never forget where you come from, he said, and he’d always play in Europe when he could.

That’s laudable, but it’s more likely that Robert, if he continues his rapid upward curve, will be full-time in the US before long as well.

And he should do so without feeling guilty. Golf can be a long career, but its intricacies are such that fortunes can change alarmingly quickly. He has to make the most of his opportunities while they are there.

A natural shift in the schedule

And anyway, I’m struggling with the idea that the European Tour is being abandoned by these guys at all. The natural shift of the schedule in recent years has taken most of the biggest European events out of direct competition with the PGA Tour.

Really, how many European Tour events is Shane Lowry missing by his decision? Probably none: he’ll likely still play the Desert Swing in January and February, the Irish Open, the Scottish maybe and the Open, and then back to Europe after the FedEx Cup play-offs to play Wentworth, Dunhill and the season-ending beanfeasts.

TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: Still too many questions about European and PGA Tour partnership

The more that the PGA Tour and European Tour align in their new partnership, the more we’re going to get a world-wide schedule that results in far more cross-channelling.

Only, instead of a one-way street from Europe to the US, there’s going to be more coming the other way. It’s already happening with Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Billy Horschel and Collin Morikawa, among others.

Europe shouldn’t feel it’s missing out when Lowry moves to the US, and inevitably the likes of MacIntyre, Wallace, Horsfield and others follow. The Tour has always produced quality talent, and I have little doubt it will continue to do so.

Two fine men of Argyll

Scotland – and Argyll’s – Robert MacIntyre.

MacIntyre, of course, has most of us Scottish golf hacks fairly starry-eyed at the moment, with some justification. If he were a footballer, one can only imagine the hysterical reaction to him.

But Bob did something that got us a little teary-eyed last week. It was the funeral of my dear friend Jock MacVicar, in his ancestral home at Southend, on the very tip of the Kintyre peninsula.

Jock, for five decades the golf writer for the Scottish Daily Express, was buried in a magical place – the family plot at Keil cemetery, where there is just a single track road between the graves and the sea. The views of the Mull of Kintyre, the Northern Irish coast and the peppering of southern isles are just breathtaking.

Covid restrictions meant only 20 could be at the graveside, and it was an honour to be one of them. But local people who knew Jock were at the roadside as the cortege moved the eight miles from Campbelltown to the graveyard.

Also there, standing head bowed as the hearse passed, was Bob. On his first week off after his American sojourn, he took the time to drive down from Oban to pay his respects – just for that brief moment – to his fellow Argyll man, 60 years his senior.

It was hugely appreciated by Jock’s family and his friends. This young man – as Jock always told us – is special.