European Tour’s stance against ’16 WGC-Bridgestone puts Lowry in a bind

MOSEL, Wis. – Just two days removed from arguably his biggest victory in golf, Ireland’s Shane Lowry is entertaining questions about whether he intends to defend his title at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational next year.

On Sunday, Lowry, 28, won his third European Tour event – a World Golf Championship, to boot. Forty-eight hours later, the European Tour announced in a news release that it will not sanction the 2016 Bridgestone because of a conflict with the Alstom French Open.

According to sources, the French Open contract with the European Tour precludes the tour from having another sanctioned event played during the same week.

That fact, plus that it will be the 100th French Open and that Alstom, the tournament sponsor since 2006, is in the final year of a four-year contract, created a conundrum for the European Tour – and also now for Lowry.

“Obviously I haven’t made any decisions,” Lowry said on the practice green Tuesday at Whistling Straits, site of this week’s PGA Championship. “I haven’t planned my schedule at all for next year, but I normally play in Europe at that time of the year.”

Lowry hasn’t played in the French Open for the past three years, electing to play the week before in Germany and then the week after at the Scottish Open. With the return of golf to the Olympics in 2016 and changes to the major professional tours’ schedules, Lowry and others on both sides of the Atlantic are expected to adjust their schedules.

“To just put the Bridgestone in right next to (the French Open) is not great for the European Tour because obviously it takes away from the French Open,” Lowry said. “I’m going to sit down with my manager and the European Tour before I make any decisions.”

The French Open has been a cornerstone of the European Tour, first played in 1906, it has a rich history of winners that includes J.H. Taylor, Walter Hagen, Henry Cotton, Bobby Locke, Byron Nelson, Roberto De Vicenzo, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie and Graeme McDowell.

Also, Paris’ Le Golf National, the tournament host for 23 of the past 25 years, will be the venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup.

Just as with The Belfry, K Club, Celtic Manor and Gleneagles, the European Tour consistently has taken the Ryder Cup to venues that have or are hosting tour events. The strategy has helped the Europeans defeat the Americans in each of the last five matches on European soil.

Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, who will captain Europe’s 2016 Ryder Cup team, said the players in contention for next year’s team will face tough schedule decisions.

“I suppose you’ve got to look at it how important it is to making the Ryder Cup team, should it be a rookie, or … I can’t tell the guys what to do,” he said. “I can tell them what I’d like them to do. But under no means would I try to tell one of my peers what he should do and what he shouldn’t do, so that choice will be up to them. All I know is that I’m fully in support of what the European Tour has done to support the French Open.”

When George O’Grady, who since has retired as the European Tour’s chief executive, announced Alstom’s extension in July 2012, he outlined the future importance of the event.

“This is a historic period in the development of French golf following last year’s announcement that Le Golf National will host the Ryder Cup in six years’ time, and the Alstom Open de France will undoubtedly play a hugely significant role in the buildup to 2018.”

Keith Pelley, who started Aug. 3 as the tour’s new boss, reiterated that importance while perhaps even firing a shot across the bow of the bigger PGA Tour. Any decision on scheduling a World Golf Championship event falls under the purview of the International Federation of PGA Tours, which consists of six professional tours, including the PGA and European tours. Clearly, the decision to move Bridgestone to an earlier date in the year was not favored by the European Tour.

Show Hide