European golfers set for successful year

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Despite the lack of a Ryder Cup in 2005, this year could spell the breakthrough Pro European golf has been waiting for…

Over the past few years there has been a distinct lack of European presence in the world’s most prestigious golf tournaments.

The last European golfer to be crowned a champion was back in 1999.

The PGA Tour attracts the best talent in the world, while the courses provide similar conditions for three of the four major championships.

All too often the European contingency has failed to take advantage of this opportunity, blaming jetlag for semi-committed displays, before limping home to the comforts of the European Tour.

But this year is different.

After the record-breaking success at the Ryder Cup in September last year, the next generation of Europeans are hitting the PGA Tour at full steam.

Gone are the days when Europe’s best were satisfied with a top-five finish at the Scandinavian Open.

They want a crack at the inflated purses and bloated world ranking points that can only be found across the Atlantic.

London-based professional golfer Brian Davis epitomises the new philosophy.

After a successful year both on and off the course (his wife gave birth to a baby boy), the 30-year-old sacrificed his winter holiday to attend the PGA Tour Qualifying School.

He shot 74 in the final round to win the event by a shot and book his card for the year.

‘Q-School’ as the Americans affectionately call it, is as rigorous as it is vital.

With thousands entering the six round finale, England’s Greg Owen and 2002 Ryder Cup hero Phillip Price followed Davis to qualification.

With their playing privileges secured, both have the luxury of settling Stateside, which has already paid off for Owen, as his recent third place finish at Pebble Beach proved.

The three qualifiers are joined by members of the European Ryder Cup team, who have all been given honorary exemptions by the PGA.

After sweeping all before them in Michigan, the English trio of Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey are the three expected to make the quickest impact.

Donald has excelled during his short time as a professional.

He won the Southern Farm Bureau Classic during his rookie year on the PGA Tour and returned to Europe last year where he won twice.

After four years at Chicago’s Northwestern University his game is ideal for the fast and firm conditions commonly seen across the pond.

Poulter may not have the talent of his countrymen but he makes up for it with sheer enthusiasm.

He has the knack of wowing crowds with colourful trousers and flamboyant hairstyles that seem to change colour with every game.

Although eccentric, Poulter has won every year during his five-year career and will no doubt be enthused by the attention he is likely to receive from the American public.

The attention for Casey may not be quite so positive.

Some ill-advised comments about his Ryder Cup opponents have led to Titleist withdrawing their sponsorship with the 27-year-old.

His long driving and fearless putting suggest big things, but with a vociferous American crowd shadowing his every step, 2005 could prove a daunting test.

The rookies will be joining the likes of Darren Clarke, Bernard Langer and Sergio Garcia who have all proved they can produce their form away from home.

Garcia and Clarke particularly, have focused their seasons on America, which will help the new boys settle.

For the first time in Sky Sports’ 14-year PGA Tour coverage, British viewers will have something other than the sun-drenched fairways to admire.

With a mixture of experience, flamboyance and youthful ambition the Europeans head west to belatedly take on the world’s best.

Let the invasion begin.