no easy answer
10 DP World Tour graduates each have interesting plan for how to tackle new PGA Tour status
Adrian Meronk and Ryan Fox are both in Dubai to start the year, while others from the top-10 have joined them. But there are some in Hawaii hoping to get a headstart on the PGA Tour.
DUBAI — European golf has had its “Great Triumvirate” of Harry Vardon, James Braid and J.H. Taylor and, more recently, the “Big Five” comprising Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam. But only in Ryder Cups have the Old World’s various personalities and nationalities formed proper teams. So it is no surprise, as the DP World Tour resumes this week in Dubai, to see the 10 players who qualified for their PGA Tour cards last season planning the months ahead in their own individual ways.
Five of the 10—Robert MacIntyre, Matthieu Pavon, Alexander Bjork, Ryo Hisatsune and Sami Valimaki—have wasted no time and have made the long journey to Hawaii for this week’s Sony Open. But four are taking it a little slower. Thorbjorn Olesen, Ryan Fox, Jorge Campillo and Adrian Meronk are competing in the DP World Tour’s opening event of 2024, the Dubai Invitational. Only Frenchman Victor Perez is absent from both events.
“It’s a great opportunity for the 10 guys,” says former Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn. “Some will go there and be successful. Some will fall on the faces. But at least they will find out just how good they need to be. In the long run, the more European players who go there, the more the game will become a global sport. I hope for that.
“I think if three or four of them keep their cards, that will be success,” Bjorn continues. “That’s a good number being realistic. The standard on the PGA Tour is higher. The depth of field is higher. And the players have played the courses so many times before. That’s maybe the hardest thing about the first year over there—you are playing new courses every week. That’s so difficult unless you are really good.”
Speaking of really good, Rory McIlroy is not one who agrees with Bjorn’s take.
“The new course thing I never found to be a big impediment to playing well on the PGA Tour,” says the four-time major champion. “Having a base there is more important. You need somewhere to go back to on weeks off. And embracing the culture and the lifestyle is a must. It is different, which is why I would advise them all to stay over there at least through the U.S. Open. They will need to focus on being there for at least five or six months. In that regard it helps to befriend guys who have been there a while. There are plenty of Europeans who will be happy to play practice rounds and make them feel a bit more comfortable. Bottom line: they have been given an amazing opportunity.”
Scotland's Robert Macintyre is starting his year in Hawaii on the PGA Tour, looking for early success.
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Still, Bjorn’s overall words of caution are not without merit. Each of the new cardholders will have to find the way best suited to them. Which is why different agendas are clearly already at play.
“Getting my PGA Tour card is obviously going to change a lot of things for me this year,” says Olesen, who makes his home in Dubai. “My plan is to play a bit on both the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour. I’m clearly starting here, but after three events in the Middle East, I’m heading across the Atlantic. I won’t be back in Europe until the summer.
“I wanted to begin here simply because I live here,” he explains. “And I like the events in this part of the world. So it made sense. When I was single I could go over there and stay as long as I wanted. Now there are other logistics in play. I was never really tempted to go over there now. I just wanted to stay in Dubai a bit longer. I’ll be at home for the next three weeks. It’s just priorities.”
In contrast to most, Campillo is actually playing down his new status. The Spaniard, who spent four years at Indiana University, intends to play the next five events on the DP World Tour before venturing across the Atlantic. Indeed, it isn’t hard to detect a lack of self-belief in the 37-year-old’s view of what lies ahead.
“I’m going to play over here until Qatar before I go to the States,” says the three-time DP World Tour winner. “I’ll start in Mexico. Then Florida and Texas. I’ll play six before I come back here. That’s more than enough. Then I’ll see how it goes. If not well, I’ll be back here next year. It will depend on how well I do in my first 11 events. I’ll make the decision then, whether I stay in the States or come back over here. I know it will be a great experience. But I’m happy where I am right now. It’s not as if I can’t wait to play on the PGA Tour. I’m not super-excited; put it that way.”
That downbeat attitude is, not surprisingly, in complete contrast to the demeanor displayed by Meronk. The Pole, in the wake of his controversial omission from the European Ryder Cup team, finished top of the 10-man qualifying list and so is exempt from the re-rank the other nine will be subject to in April. Already, he knows he can play in virtually every PGA Tour stop outside of the elevated events.
“I’ll start at Torrey Pines,” says Meronk. “Hawaii was just too far to go. Plus, there is no rush. I’ll go to the States with two events under my belt, which makes sense I think. I won’t be back in Europe until the Scottish Open. My goal is to get a win and get comfortable on the PGA Tour. I want to make it to the Tour Championship and finish the season in the world’s top 30. I know it will be a big change. And I’m trying to take things slowly. But I have big goals.”
Meronk has even gone as far as to make an adjustment to his address position—one that will be put into play when he gets to San Diego. Because of the need to hit approach shots higher to the generally firmer and faster American greens, Meronk and swing coach Matthew Tipper are working on moving the ball maybe half-a-ball width forward in his stance.
“I’ve talked to a couple of guys about how high you need to hit the ball over there,” says the former Irish Open and Australian Open champion. ‘So I’ve tried a couple of different ball positions just to see how much difference that can make. I’ll try it when I get there, although I’m sticking to my norm here this week.”
Thorbjorn Olesen lives in Dubai so it was an easy decision for him to start his season at the event so close to his home.
Fox is another excited at the prospect of furthering a career that has flourished over the last few years.
“After two weeks here in Dubai, I’m heading to the States,” says the New Zealander. “My plan is basically to play in pretty much every event I can get into. I might even get into the elevated events through my World Ranking, which makes playing well here a priority. If I get into those my schedule will fill out nicely.
“Long-term I’d like to play on both tours,” he continues. “I’ve always struggled a little in the States. Not with the playing—the courses generally suit my game—but with the culture. It’s just different, so I haven’t enjoyed it as much as I would like to. But this year my family is going to travel with me. Hopefully that will make things a little easier off the course. Whatever, I’m going to give it my best shot. Playing on the PGA Tour has been my dream ever since I started playing golf.”
As to how the disappearance of 10 of the tour’s best players will affect the DP World circuit, Bjorn is philosophical. Gravitating westward has long been a fact of professional life for those Europeans with ambition to compete against the best on a regular basis.
“Speak to almost any young player today and the PGA Tour is where they want to play their golf,” says the Dane. “It is the place to be, the pension fund, a big attraction. It’s not only the prize money. The pension is a huge selling point. It’s a shame for the DP World Tour that we can’t compete stature-wise, but [chief executive] Keith Pelley tried with the big-money Rolex events to make it more attractive over here. He wanted 12 of those but the players didn’t want to support that many. So we ended up with only four. Which was down to the players. I’m not blaming them, it’s just the situation they were in.”