Prize money means so much to them because they don’t normally have the endorsements of sponsorship or other revenue streams.
The two specific ages are when you are starting out and when you are finishing off, namely Challenge Tour and Seniors Tour, if we are focusing on the European tournament schedules. This means at the end of last year, aspiring tournament professional golfers will have paid over €1,000 to enter European Tour Qualifying School, fought their way through the gruelling three stages and hopefully won a tour card on either the Challenge Tour or the European Tour.
Last year it was a record-breaking amount of entries for European Tour Qualifying School, and I think for the first time in the history of that tournament, the players who didn’t make it might actually be feeling relieved. A bold statement I know but just think about it for a second; once their tournament run ended they then had to focus on what they were going to do the following year, so plans were being made prior to Christmas. Ways of earning money and supporting their families would have been investigated long before the virus arrived.
The players who won a tour card and playing privileges for the 2020 season haven’t played in an event to date. Imagine working so hard to get onto the tour, beating thousands of players to do so, and then not being allowed to go and compete. Or more crucially, not being able to earn money. The lucky few who have sponsorship deals must be wondering how long the deal will last in this economic climate. As the saying goes ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’ - the opposite also applies.
When watching the players week in and week out compete, what’s easy to forget is that the only income they have is tournament prize money. When you hear about the football players’ weekly wages which are locked in regardless of whether or not they’re on the bench or on the pitch, this is not the world of tournament Professional Golf, especially when starting out or finishing off.
Maintaining focus on the players that are starting out, it is very likely that the player may have sacrificed their education in the pursuit of playing at the highest level. When before the landscape and graduation onto the tour was understood, everything has now changed where even the existence of the tournament schedule for 2020 is something that cannot be promised. Some of these players will be in their mid 20s or even approaching their 30s, have their ticket to go and play, and not be able to and have no fall-back position as far as education or career is concerned.
If we now look to the players who are finishing off their career on the Seniors Tour, if my crystal ball is correct there are likely to be no events this year. I made no secret of my intention to go to Qualifying School this year but for one reason or another I didn’t submit my entry form this year. From a personal standpoint I’m relieved but from a different perspective I know of players who have been waiting for 15 or 20 years to show their nearest and dearest that they can still play and compete against the best in their age bracket. Some entered Seniors Tour School and were unfortunately successful in winning their tour card for the 2020 season. This might have been their only chance of competing at that level. However, with no guarantee that the lead sponsor can pay the bills, historically few spectators attending the events and no certainty whether this virus is going to have one spike or two, these players are left to sit on the side-lines hoping that they will be able to play with full playing rights in 2021.
So while the armchair sports enthusiast is lamenting the lack of sport on offer for the last couple of months, with Sky Sports promoting that sport is returning in June, have a thought for the golfer who earns his money from playing and is watching the TV waiting for that day to come.