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European Tour enters new era with new chief

Former European Tour supremo Ken Schofield ended an era on New Year's Day when he handed over the baton to his long-time deputy George O'Grady.

Schofield, who was executive director for 30 fruitful years, leaves the tour in rude financial health.

Since taking over from John Jacobs on New Year's Day in 1975, he has been instrumental in increasing the tour's annual prize fund from around 599,000 euros ($814,800) to a record 120,480,464 euros ($163.8 million) in 2004.

Even more significantly, the tour has grown in that time from a 17-event European affair to a global odyssey that last year took in 47 tournaments in far-flung places like Hong Kong to Johannesburg, Bangkok, Melbourne, Dubai and Moscow.

Today's European Tour knows no boundaries and its players, toughened by their exposure to golf courses on virtually every continent, celebrated a runaway Ryder Cup victory over the U.S. in Schofield's final year in office.

Perhaps the only blemish on the European Tour's curriculum vitae in recent years is that no player from Europe has won any of the four majors since Britain's Paul Lawrie in the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie.

Prior to that, though, Schofield readily admits he benefited hugely from the emergence in the late 1970s of the heavyweight European quintet of Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam.

These five richly talented players -- who between them won 16 majors -- lifted European golf to unprecedented heights and their pulling power has been a key factor in the rapid rise of tournament prize money in Europe.

Despite this, however, plenty of hard work has been required to maximise the potential of European golf, especially in the volatile economic climate that has cloaked the world since September 11 2001.

"Many people, be they tour members or the golfing media, would think that a full European Tour schedule and an increase in the prize money are automatic," Schofield told Reuters.

"But my message is that they aren't. The environment has shifted and these things are hard-earned.

"Yes, this game is a great vehicle for the corporate world we have. We have a broad basket of sponsors from car companies and financial houses to governments and the proprietors of golf courses.

"But the search never stops. You always want to reach new levels and that will never cease.

"Nothing is certain in this world with its volatility. You can wake up any morning since September 11 knowing that the world can change in a heartbeat because it has already done so."

Schofield, who will maintain strong ties with the European Tour as a part-time consultant, has no regrets after making way for O'Grady.

"Thirty years has been a long time and a great privilege, but it's time to move on," said the Scot.

"I just wanted to make the European Tour as good as it could be and I feel honoured to have been a part of making what was, at first, a dream come true.

"I have tried to do two things above all else -- to offer the players the opportunity to play and to provide them with a sensible reward for good play -- ie. with prize money.

"The fact that we have, in general, consistently trotted out improved tour schedules with enhanced prize money has given a lot of players an opportunity to pursue their dream of being the next Seve, the next Faldo or (Jose Maria) Olazabal.

"I think that's really why we are here. It is our pleasure providing opportunities for the players to play and obviously we take pride in their successes."

Asked if one particular memory stood out over the last 30 years, he replied: "Probably Bernhard's putt at Kiawah."

Bernhard Langer famously missed a high-pressure putt from six feet at Kiawah Island for the United States to regain the 1991 Ryder Cup from Europe by 14-1/2 points to 13-1/2.

However, Schofield will always have a special affection for Europe's record-equalling Ryder Cup success last year at Oakland Hills, where they swept to victory by 18-1/2 points to 9-1/2.

"(Captain) Bernhard Langer and his 12 superb team members deservedly received worldwide recognition," he said.

"Europe's resounding victory in the 35th Ryder Cup matches was the apogee for European Tour members in a momentous year."

 

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