Ian Poulter’s Ryder Cup eligibility saved by Rich Beem
Well, that’s a title I never thought I’d write, but here we are.
Ian Poulter, European Ryder Cup legend, is playing in the UBS Hong Kong Open on the European Tour this week alongside other big names like Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Patrick Reed. On its own, that’s not anything out of the ordinary, but the specifics of how Poulter got into the field are interesting to say the least. James Corrigan of the Telegraph has the details, which essentially boils down to Poulter receiving the spot of 2002 PGA Championship winner, and noted professional dancer, Rich Beem. Beem, who currently works for Sky Sports and plays the odd event from time to time, was given a tournament invitation but decided to pull out, allowing Poulter to join the event.
Now, why is Poulter making such a late effort to get into what seems to be a relatively minor stop on the European Tour? As Corrigan notes, with Andy Sullivan’s win at the shotgun start Portugal Masters, he moved into 47th place in the Official World Golf Rankings, and Emiliano Grillo’s win at the Frys allowed him to jump to 36th, leading Poulter to fall outside of the top-50. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but this meant that Poulter was now suddenly ineligible for the WGC-HSBC Champions event in China in a few weeks, which he was counting on playing in to fulfill his thirteen event requirement to keep his status as a member of the European Tour. Without that membership, Poulter would have been ineligible to compete in the Ryder Cup.
There’s a lot going on here. Doug Ferguson from the Associated Press talked with Beem about the situation and Beem said it was the right thing to do:
” I looked at it in the simplest terms. There’s a guy who loses his tour membership if I don’t step away. Is it anymore awkward because it’s Ian Poulter? I don’t know and I don’t care. It was the right thing to do. “
Undoubtedly, a nice gesture on the part of Beem, who flew to China with his family from Texas in order to play the event but will now be on the sidelines while Poulter tees it up. From the tournament’s end, I get why they would be cool with swapping Beem for Poulter. Beem may be a major champion, but he’s not exactly a draw and on top of that, his last top-10 finish in any worldwide event came at the 2009 Mayakoba, so it’s not like he was expected to compete on any real level. Poulter is a name player that despite his struggles in 2015, is someone that could win this week and no one would really be that shocked. However…
See, this is where the whole situation feels a little off to me. If Beem pulled out of the event, shouldn’t that spot have gone to whoever was next on the list and not Poulter? Picture the first alternate at the event right now. What if he had to fly in from somewhere else to get there (on his own dime and he’s likely not a big name who could be fighting for his tour card) in the hopes that he would get a spot, and while he’s warming up on the range, he hears that Poulter is coming in to replace Beem? Sure, the argument for that guy is probably that he needs to play better, but the same could be said of Poulter as well and here’s where it gets interesting. From Ferguson’s piece:
That’s when the European Tour went to Beem and asked him if he were interested in giving his exemption to Poulter. Beem said a tour official called him Monday night when he was asleep after the long flight from Texas, and only after making a few phone calls did he appreciate what Poulter was facing.
For what it’s worth, I’m cool with Poulter doing whatever he needed to do to get in the event and it’s clear that he didn’t break any rules, but in all honesty, this really shouldn’t even have to happen. Considering the importance of the Ryder Cup to both sides, I’m not really quite sure why the European Tour membership requirement is something that exists in 2015 when so many of the best European players have decided to play on the PGA Tour, and sure, as I’ve pointed out already, Poulter is a bigger draw and a better player at this point than Beem, but should the European Tour really be altering tournaments like this? It just seems like a bad precedent to set.
Paul Casey has already said that he is likely giving up his European Tour membership, and will be missing out on the Ryder Cup if he does, and you can certainly make the argument that someone like Carl Pettersson was likely good enough to make a European team at some point in the last decade, but as a full time PGA Tour member, he was never given the opportunity. It might sound like an overreaction, but it’s not hard to see where this could be headed in the future. With the large disparity in purses between the PGA Tour and European Tour, the difference in quality fields is getting wider by the year and while the best European Tour events can still compete with the PGA Tour, the vast majority of their events end up looking subpar. They’ve already changed their rules once this year when Rory McIlroy got hurt, allowing him to play in their Race to Dubai Final Series despite not having enough events to qualify, and as Doug Ferguson notes below, it’s hard to believe that they wouldn’t have changed the rules for Poulter given his history.
The solution seems pretty simple though: If you’re European, you can play in the Ryder Cup, regardless of what tour you’re on and how many starts you’ve made. Casey and Poulter both make the Ryder Cup better and more entertaining, which benefits everyone. Darren Clarke wants to field the best possible team at Hazeltine, and right now, that would probably include Paul Casey, but instead, he’ll have to take someone inferior because Casey feels like his career is better served currently on the PGA Tour.
When Europe was first invited to fully play in the Ryder Cup in 1979, there was definitely the idea that this was the PGA Tour vs. the European Tour, but those lines have been blurred so much over the last decade that the current rules just seem antiquated and due for a change.