Pete Cowen: 1.5 Billion reasons why Saudi Arabia could shake up the game… But first the Ryder Cup!

It was very sad to hear of the passing of Vivienne Player. She’s been by Gary’s side for more than six decades and that includes traveling the globe with the kids in tow.

It’s hard enough taking my grandson to the park for an hour let alone fly half-way round the world on a plane with no entertainment or help. No wonder Gary won so much during his career, there were a lot of mouths to feed and nappies to buy in the Player household. I’m delighted he’s continuing to maintain his status as one of golf’s greatest global ambassadors. Vivienne and Gary have achieved so much for countless charities around the world and I’m sure she would want the Player name to continue and help those in need.

I know Gary is an ambassador for Saudi Golf and he’s an inspiring figure for any country that is starting to develop the game. Just look at the talent that has come out of South Africa thanks to the path and hard work Gary carved out.

When Gary and I were starting out it was the norm to see players sleeping in cars or make-shift campervans. If you didn’t win enough to cover the fuel bill to the next event the pressure was serious and losing your card wasn’t down the lack of talent but sometimes it was just the lack of cash to travel.

Standing on the range trying to explain that to the modern-day tour players is just a waste of time. Most travel to events in private jets or business class if they have too, so sleeping rough in a hire car has become folklore.
Money has become the focal point in the game and right now all that these huge prize funds in Europe and America are doing is rewarding the average tour golfer too much. If you finish last in the FedEx Cup you will have probably earned way over a million that season in prize money alone.

The Saudis are also enticing players to the Middle East with huge appearance money and it is claimed they have a budget of one and a half billion dollars to invest in the game, it will be interesting to see where it’s spent. I know they are building a variety of golf courses in the Kingdom and they have made a huge impact in a very short space of time. If that money is invested in the development of the game, Saudi could generate golfers in the same way Korea has in recent years. It will take time, but they have the determination and resources to make an impact. Though I’m sure the Tours will see it as a huge opportunity to boost their members bank balances.

Some of the world’s best players took on the stunning Royal Greens G&CC

One thing players can’t buy is a spot in the Ryder Cup and it’s certainly going to be interesting at Whistling Straits. The European team is pretty much well known, and it leaves Padraig with just three picks, which he will leave to the last minute to see who is in the best form, but you might as well put Ian Poulter in now. He’s in form and the Ryder Cup isn’t the same for Europe without him. It’s also great to see Westwood in the team. He’s had a remarkable season and in a great frame of mind both on and off the course. To have Westy and Poults playing for Europe would be a huge boost for Padraig and the team’s moral. So that leaves two realistic picks and I could see Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre getting a call from Padraig.

The American team have six picks and when you look at their options in terms of players, Stricker could pick a B team and still beat Europe. Having said that, the European team is strong and have a lot of experience playing on PGA Tour courses. No doubt the course will be made as wide open as possible to create an advantage for the bigger hitting America players but Whistling Straits, as the name suggests, could be windy and play into European hands.

Team Europe has the experience to retain The Ryder Cup title.

As for the Brooks and Bryson rivalry, it’s just a load of hype. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them paired together. It would be box office and what the fans on both teams would love to watch. I’m pretty sure Brooks wouldn’t care, as a sizeable chunk of that $40 million PGA Tour social media bonus will be heading their way that’s for sure.

The BMW Championship at Wentworth will be vital for any European players on the edge of a Ryder Cup spot. MacIntyre just needs a solid finish on Sunday. So, who is in the mix for that last spot? Wiesberger has played his way into contention and you would think a top five at Wentworth could be enough. But imagine if Richard Bland won? He’s playing the best golf of his career and it would be the icing on the cake for what has become a truly remarkable season.

Unfortunately, I doubt I will be able to talk to any of the players outside my bubble at Wentworth to get a true feel of how they are feeling, as the European Tour appears to be maintaining tight Covid regulations during the week. I’m just as confused as everyone else right now. I’m allowed to sit amongst 40,000 football fans at the weekend without a mask but unable to interact with players that have been tested on a driving range at an event.