No matter how many Ryder Cups and Masters titles Europeans win, the European tour gets dissed and dismissed on this side of the Atlantic. "Their tour doesn't come close to ours in any department," Mark Calcavecchia said in 1989 voicing a view still shared by most American players.
Today, though, the numbers tell a different story. Not only are Euro tourists the statistical equals of their U.S. counterparts, but they also surpass the PGA Tour's best in five of six major stat categories. (The chart below shows the numbers of the two tours' leaders, with tour averages in parentheses.)
"The European tour has become much stronger than American fans realize, especially among the better players," says CBS golf announcer Peter Oosterhuis, who covered the Euros in 1996 and '97 for the Golf Channel. Americans know Colin Montgomerie, Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal and Lee Westwood but may not have heard of such young stars as Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke, Andrew Coltart, Padraig Harrington, Per Haugsrud, Per-Ulrik Johansson (above) and Paul McGinley, who are among the biggest names on the tour across the pond.
The Euro tour's liftoff has been fueled by lavishly funded national junior development programs, many of them modeled on Sweden's system, which is represented by 24 male European tour pros as well as the LPGA's Helen Alfredsson, Liselotte Neumann and Annika Sorenstam. Another factor in the Europeans' favor, oddly enough, is their tour's notoriously ragged courses. "Playing under such poor conditions prepares them for anything," says Oosterhuis. "They can hit all the shots, and they have superb short games."
Europe's deepening talent reservoir has the Continent's old guard sounding almost smug. "Our tour is the strongest it has been since I came out here," says Montgomerie, a former critic of conditions on the circuit he has long dominated. "It's a positive time indeed for the European tour."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]