THE success of a Scottish golfer regaining his PGA Tour card has coincided with an American predicting that Europe will increasingly become a hunting ground for his compatriots in the next few years.
Inverness man Russell Knox will be back playing on golf’s richest circuit in a fortnight’s time – the 2013-14 season starts with the Frys.com Open in California – after securing his place among 50 graduates from the Web.com Tour.
In finishing joint-sixth in the second-tier circuit’s Tour Championship at Dye’s Valley Course in Ponte Vedra Beach on Sunday, the 28-year-old climbed 37 spots to 20th in the season-ending rankings.
He joined the likes of former Masters champion Trevor Immelman, Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa and four-times PGA Tour winner Sean O’Hair in securing a coveted card through the only route now available following a change in the Qualifying School procedure in the US.
It’s the second time in three years that Knox, who is based in Jacksonville after staying on in the States after college, has earned a step up to the PGA Tour, having finished 12th on the Web.com Tour money-list in 2011.
On last season’s PGA Tour, he made eight cuts in 19 starts, one of which saw him tie the course record with a 64 at TPC Louisiana at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, but finished 179th on the FedEx Cup points list.
Helped by a 59 back in July, however, Knox has full playing privileges again for the main US circuit and is shaping his career in a similar pattern to compatriot Martin Laird, who used the Nationwide Tour – as it was known at the time – as his stepping stone to becoming a three-times PGA Tour winner.
While Knox and Laird look to plunder big prize pots on the other side of the Atlantic, an American impact in regular European Tour events is becoming more evident through the trail-blazing efforts of Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka.
They both started the 2013 season on the Challenge Tour but have subsequently earned step-ups to the main circuit. Uihlein, winner of the Madeira Islands Open in May, is now up to tenth in the Race to Dubai after finishing second in the Dunhill Links Championship – his second runners-up spot in three events.
He’s also climbed to 69th in the world rankings, which also see compatriot Koepka in the top 100, a feat he’s achieved largely off the Challenge Tour, where his his three wins this year included the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore.
Fuelled by the duo’s success, a record number of Americans entered this season’s European Tour Qualifying School. As reported in The Scotsman last month, 86 US players – double last year’s total – are competing in eight first-stage events currently drawing to a close across Europe.
The decision by more Americans to turn their attention to Europe in an attempt to get a foot on the ladder is also likely to have been influenced by the aforementioned changes to the PGA Tour Qualifying School. It no longer offers instant promotion to the money-spinning main circuit, with the Web.com Tour now being the primary path to get a PGA Tour card.
While Jordan Spieth, who has been handed a captain’s pick by Fred Couples for this week’s Presidents Cup, has shown that fast-tracking it is still possible in the US, Koepka is happy to bang the European drum for anyone prepared to listen back home.
“If I spoke to a college kid and told him about the benefits of playing in Europe and then he said he wasn’t interested, then I’d tell him he was an idiot,” said the 23-year-old during the Dunhill Links Championship.
“Guys get stuck on the mini-Tours in the States and that’s a mistake as there are so many different ways to climb the ladder these days. It’s good to see a few more Americans coming over to Europe and I think we’ll see that trend continuing in years to come.
“My goal is to play both Tours, not just either the European Tour or the PGA Tour. By playing both, I think it makes you a well-rounded player rather one-dimensional.
“At the moment, I’ve got no status in the States and I’d rather play the European Tour than the Web.com Tour.
“The guys I look up to are the likes of Adam Scott and Trevor Immelman. They gained their initial success in Europe and have taken it to the States. Adam Scott, in particular, is basically the player I’m trying to emulate in the game.”
Meanwhile, with only two regular European Tour events left – the Portugal Masters and Perth International – Chris Doak, lying 112th, and 121st-ranked Scott Henry both need at least one decent pay-day to retain their cards for next season.