Fingers, toes and everything else crossed as European Tour prepares to creak back into action

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nick rodger

Regular readers may be startled to learn that I’ve been dabbling in a bit of yoga lately. Not half as startled, mind you, as my two-year-old son who watched me creak, crack, grimace and groan myself into a Sun Salutation during a quite preposterous performance which really shouldn’t have been viewed by such tender, innocent eyes. 

Given that I have the flexibility of a steel girder, the whole straining, stretching stooshie had about as much fluidity as the movement of freight at the Kent ports. Apparently, the ancient practice of yoga is about the body and the mind working in perfect harmony even if, in my case, it was my body asking my mind ‘what the hell are you thinking?’ as I contorted, curled and cursed. All of which brings us squirming into this week’s meander as the European Tour gets itself moving again in 2021.

Rather like this scribe adopting the Warrior Two position and posing in statuesque, athletic majesty – well, until my leggings ripped – the European Ryder Cup qualifying standings have been frozen in time since last July due to the fractured nature of a coronavirus-impacted campaign. 

The European process of accumulating points resumes this week in Abu Dhabi as the circuit embarks on its traditional Middle East swing. Qualifying began at the BMW PGA Championship back in September 2019 but, with the 2020 transatlantic tussle postponed for 12 months as the pandemic raged, the road to Whistling Straits has been longer than a queue at Dover.

When the qualifying race started at Wentworth some 17 months ago, Oban’s Robert MacIntyre was on his way to winning the tour’s rookie of the year award and had already impressed the European skipper, Padraig Harrington. “I’d be very happy if he plays his way into my team,” Harrington said at the time.

As he prepares to tee-off 2021, MacIntyre has continued to make great strides. He is now a tour winner and just one place outside the world’s top-50. Breaking into that lofty echelon, and benefitting from all the lucrative opportunity it offers, would significantly bolster his qualifying hopes.

Back in 2019, Harrington stated that he’d scribbled down a list of 20 or so up-and-coming tour players he was keen to keep an eye on. MacIntyre was very much part of that list. Never one to look too far ahead and always canny and measured in his career analysis, MacIntyre will not let the Ryder Cup qualification process become a distraction. 

Throughout his short yet successful professional career, the 24-year-old has dealt with all the various challenges superbly, from establishing himself quickly in his rookie year to thriving in major debuts and overcoming some psychological troubles to eventually emerge as a tour champion. A push for a Ryder Cup spot will be another exciting task to embrace.

That’s if everything passes off as scheduled, of course. The European Tour may have a hefty diary of tournaments in place for 2021 but caution remains the watchword. Only last week, for instance, three events in February on the second-tier Challenge Tour, and co-sanctioned with the South African Sunshine Tour, were postponed due to the global resurgence of Covid-19. The ladies’ circuit in that neck of the woods has also been put on hold. 

Such developments underlined, once again, the perilous, fragile, ever-changing nature of the current situation across all facets of life. In these turbulent times, the only certainty is the uncertainty. Let’s keep those fingers – and whatever else bloomin’ yoga demands –  crossed.

AND ANOTHER THING

A quick glance at some of the golf headlines over the last week or so has made an eviction notice seem like some light, soothing reading in comparison. 

Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam took pelters for accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump the day after the US Capitol was stormed by his rabid supporters. Angel Cabrera, the former Masters champion, was arrested in Brazil amid various allegations. And Justin Thomas was caught on a microphone spouting a homophobic insult after missing a putt at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. 

The world No 3 swiftly apologised for his use of the word ‘faggot’ but has since had a hefty contract with clothing giant, Ralph Lauren, ripped up. 

The ensuing debate didn’t have much middle ground. Thomas was either a roaring bigot or those offended were just too sensitive. The well-respected writer Eamon Lynch, one of the few openly gay golf commentators, penned a column for Golfweek which offered more reason and insight. 

Referencing conversations he has had with golfers who feared their sexuality would be a barrier to a career in the industry, Lynch wrote that, “those kids are the unseen and unheard impact of Thomas’ language, the people who will simply drift away from golf while this binary debate exhausts itself between those who are vocally upset at the slur and those who are just angry that others express their upset.”

Golf has worked hard to try to shake off the self-imposed, historical shackles that have created division and negative stereotypes down the years. It’s up to everyone, from the world’s best to the weekend warriors at a club level, to make it a welcoming game for all.

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