'BMW PGA Championship matches everything The Players has to offer'
Last Updated: 23/09/19 6:17am
Let’s all say a huge thank you to golf bosses in America for the biggest favour they’ve ever done the European Tour.
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It wasn't something they intended, but, at a stroke, they've dramatically elevated the status of the BMW PGA Championship.
By switching the PGA Championship to May to leave August clear for the FedExCup, the vested interests of American golf effectively forced the BMW PGA to move to September. In doing so, they unwittingly helped the European Tour resolve all the negatives that have afflicted the tournament for years.
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Relive a dramatic final round from the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
For the first time in recent history, the championship was all good news for the players, sponsors, and fans, and the result was a showcase event to match any in the rich history of Wentworth.
And now, after its successful autumn rebirth, the Wentworth event has, in my opinion, instantly risen to a position in golf just under the majors in a slot previously reserved exclusively for the PGA Tour's Players Championship.
Many in America may scoff at that given the strength of the field every year at Sawgrass, but they'd perhaps be underestimating the significance of Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, and Billy Horschel being at Wentworth last week. That trio may turn out to be an advance party for many more to come once the positives begin to feed back across the Atlantic.
In modern times, the European PGA Championship has been admired by Americans but not recognised as a world event and you can understand why. For a start, the European Tour has sometimes struggled to get its own top players to tee up in their own flagship tournament, never mind attract players from around the world.
There were a number of factors, most of them related to Wentworth's position on the golfing calendar, squeezed into a busy May that then included the Players Championship and Jack Nicklaus's Memorial Tournament. That week in May, early in the UK growing season, also made it difficult for the course to be conditioned to a level we've come to expect at world-class tournaments.
Players were often critical of the greens and with the added complication of frequent redesigns of the course, the build-up to the tournament each year was plagued by public and private controversy. Without doubt, the image of the event was damaged and although it was still a highlight on the European Tour it seemed to be boxed in one way or another.
Willett beats Rahm to BMW PGA win
Report and highlights from the final round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
It wasn't helped four years ago when the then new chief executive, Keith Pelley, said it was no longer the flagship event of the European Tour because its prize fund lagged behind the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Next came rumblings of discontent at the Wentworth Club itself when a new regime created tensions with members and with the Tour, which has its headquarters there. Now, all the negative baggage - calendar-related or not - seems to have been left behind in the old May slot because the tournament was riding high on a wave of optimism.
September gives the European Tour plenty of freedom within the schedule and that's something they'll surely utilise next year to avoid any clashes in the build-up to the Ryder Cup in America. All in all, the enforced reboot of the BMW PGA Championship has, for me, invited genuine comparisons with the PGA Tour's flagship, The Players.
Apart from the obvious disparity in strength of fields as things stand, Wentworth matches everything Sawgrass has to offer and sometimes more, and I say this as someone who's long regarded the Players Championship as my favourite event in world golf.
On location alone, Wentworth, 15 minutes from Heathrow and on the edge of London, trumps Sawgrass easily. Ponte Vedra is more than two hours north of Orlando and its more local airport, Jacksonville, is not exactly an airline hub. Remember, for every superstar who arrives in his private jet, there are thousands of others who have to get to tournaments on commercial airlines.
Obviously, the courses are totally different and impossible to compare like-for-like, but it's a fact that Wentworth has a 17th hole that can wreck any card just as quickly as the par-three at Sawgrass.
Also, much as I love the 18th at Sawgrass, I think Wentworth now has a more dramatic stadium arena on its finishing hole. Opinions about the two courses are subjective, but what cannot be disputed is that Wentworth has a history of which the Players Championship can only dream.
Between the BMW PGA, the old World Matchplay Championship and the 1953 Ryder Cup, the famous old course in Surrey has hosted Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Sir Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie and Tiger Woods.
To be fair, some of them have their own history at Sawgrass too and the Players Championship is rightly considered to be the jewel in the PGA Tour's crown, but the European Tour has burnished its own gem and - given a few years in its new September slot - it may be a sparkling just as brightly.