David Howell: US Tour has the glamour but European Tour has culture

The PGA Tour’s glitzy Florida Swing has come to a close with three Europeans winning successive events – meanwhile, I’ve travelled from Oman to India via Qatar and Malaysia as I try and recapture some form worthy of gracing these great global destinations.

The change in the scheduling on the PGA Tour created an incredibly strong month of March with three cracking events following on from the World Golf Championships event in Mexico City, which, in my opinion, has fast become the most interesting WGC event.

Arnold Palmer always made a point of inviting an international field to his tournament and this year, more than most, he got a mainly European leaderboard heading into the final day. With young English stars Matt Fitzpatrick and Matt Wallace making their mark alongside the ever-present Rory McIlroy, it made for exciting television viewing.

In the end, it was The Open Champion, Francesco Molinari, who ran through the field with his best-ever putting day to earn a two-shot victory – another outstanding victory for the world’s most improved player. With a new set of clubs to boot, it was a special week for the man from Turin.

Questions were starting to be asked by the pundits about McIlroy’s inability to finish off a tournament with a strong Sunday. Not since Bay Hill last year had he romped home to victory in such fine style, but one thing is for sure, his start to this season has been nothing short of superb – inside the top 5 on 6 occasions by the end of March is the kind of form anyone would like to produce, even someone of Rory’s class. As I once heard Richard Boxall say about another lesser well-known player many years ago, in terms of a probable victory, ‘Rory is just an accident waiting to happen.’ So it was, on perhaps the best tournament course in golf.

Rory had been set a clubhouse target by none other than Jim Furyk, one of the straightest hitters in golf, who had found his range on a layout that requires accuracy above all else. With birdies on 15 and 16 and an awe-inspiring drive down the water-flanked 18th, McIlroy reminded us all of just what an outstanding golfer he is.

With 15 PGA Tour victories under his belt, and now the reigning Players Champion – which was surely high on his wish list of achievements – it looks like his decision to focus on the PGA Tour only for this first half of the season, has certainly paid off.

Watching from afar, it seems to me that Rory has got his life nicely under control, which is no easy feat. It is worth remembering that early fame and fortune brings no guarantee of happiness and future success. To a large degree, they can be a negative for long-lasting greatness. When you are as gifted as Rory is, a career can be
influenced more by events and decisions made off the golf course rather than on it. In this second decade of Rory’s career, his calmness off the course seems to be bringing huge benefits on it. He looks set to become a fearsome competitor now that the Major season is here. It will be interesting to see how Rory performs at Augusta National later this month, the first of the four Majors.

Following his triumphant Players Championship, the tournament many regard as the ‘Fifth Major,’ his confidence will be sky-high, which will be the perfect mindset to complete his career Grand Slam of all four Majors.

Whilst all this fun has been happening stateside, the European Tour has taken in Oman, Qatar, Malaysia and India, and while a three-hour drive from Orlando to Jacksonville is a little easier, seeing the world has always been one of the thrills and adventures of playing on the European Tour. Partnering with countries that are really taking their first few steps into establishing a golf tourism market presents a wonderful opportunity during the months when the European climate is still not conducive to hosting golf events in the UK or many other northern European countries.

We are so fortunate to have forward-thinking countries to host events that are very popular with the bulk of our members,  and while Florida has long been the biggest golf market in the world, bringing the game to new territories is something the European Tour has embraced for many years now, assisting cities and countries in growing up around you, year-on-year, is nothing if not interesting.

Writing about the brilliance of others brings home the fact that my own golfing year has started off as badly as any I have ever experienced, apart from the previous two injury-riddled seasons! A game that can bring so much joy can also seem like the hardest job in the world when the scores are not coming. But one thing golf teaches you, if you let it, is resilience.

It also reminds you, that you can take nothing for granted. So, as I write this column on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to New Delhi, on the back of five missed cuts, my mind, thankfully, goes back to Fabrizio Zannotti, who started the same way three years ago, only to go on to win the Maybank Championship. I hope I can end my next column with news of at least a joyful round or two, if not a miraculous victory.

Please excuse me for trying to pre-empt a return to form by indulging myself in this way. Until the next time, like me, keep on trying, and keep on swinging.

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