The debate over Europe’s Ryder Cup qualification process in the wake of last month’s Hazeltine defeat has turned into a heavyweight argy- bargy. In one corner, fighting for significant change are Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood while, in the other, Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia are battling to stop that.
It was McIlroy, the world No 2, who first came out a week ago and said he felt that the system needed to be altered so that there was no repeat of the situation that stopped Paul Casey, a non-European Tour member, being selected by Darrren Clarke for the match in Minnesota. Westwood, a likely European captain in the near future, subsequently endorsed that view, saying he wanted to see the “best possible European players teeing it up in the Ryder Cup”.
Speaking in Belek at the weekend during the Turkish Airlines Open, European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley insisted he’d not be “afraid” to change the rules regarding eligibility, but now both Harrington and Garcia have defended the system that produced eight wins for Europe in 10 matches prior to the 17-11 disappointment on this occasion.
“The Ryder Cup is far too important to the European Tour for the man on the ground to be turning around and saying, ‘why not just select the top 12 in the world rankings and be done with it’,” said Harrington, who is also a likely European captain. “That would be silly, wouldn’t it?
“At the end of the day, the reason we have done well in the Ryder Cup is because of our selection criteria and how we have worked it. Just because we lost the last one and the US have changed their criteria doesn’t mean we should change ours. Ours was working just fine.”
The three-time major winner added: “The Ryder Cup is all about the European Tour. And the Ryder Cup, to be honest, it represents the non-Europeans who are members of the European Tour, too. It is absolutely a carrot used by the European Tour. If you want to play in the Ryder Cup and improve your career prospects and all that goes with it, you have got to be a member of the Tour and play five times. It is not much to ask anybody.”
Concurring in an interview with Sky Sports News HQ, Garcia said: “The important thing is we don’t panic now. We’ve won eight of the last 11, so we’re doing some thing right. Maybe a little change here or there, but there shouldn’t be major changes because we’ve been very successful.”
As was Pelley when it came to the big-money deal he landed for the 2022 match to be held in Italy, but the Canadian has said the process for the next available slot on this side of the Atlantic - 2026 - will be changed from the one that involved countries in a bidding war. “I was absolutely astonished with magnitude of the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine,” he confessed. “I’ve been to almost every sporting event from World Cups to Super Bowls to championship fights – I knew the Ryder Cup was big, but I didn’t understand the magnitude of it until I had been there for four days.
“We are confident Italy will be a terrific venue and Rome will be a great host in 2022. We will also definitely make sure we have the right partner in 2026 and do due diligence around that. As soon as I started this position, I got involved in the nomination because there were four countries [Austria, Italy, Germany and Spain]. That particular process will not be duplicated; we will have a different process going forward in selecting Ryder Cup venues.
“What that is has not been ironed out, but the challenge I had with the process was that all of these organisations, the Spanish, Austrian and German federation, host tournaments for us and there is one winner and three losers and three who were not awarded the Ryder Cup are still our partners. That, I found, was not a good way forward.”
Pelley, who is set to reveal a new-look European Tour schedule for 2017 in Dubai next Tuesday, will have Jay Monahan as his opposite number on the PGA Tour from 1 January after his appointment as Tim Finchem’s successor was rubber-stamped by the US Tour’s board. Finchem is stepping down after serving more than 22 years as the circuit’s third commissioner. He succeeded Deane Beman on 1 June, 1994. Monahan joined the PGA Tour in 2008.