Travel for Rolex Series events began easily enough with players going from England to France to Ireland and Scotland. But after a stand-alone event in Italy in October, the frequent-flier miles increase in November during a brutal three-week schedule of Turkey, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.
Tommy Fleetwood of England enters the World Tour Championship as the leader of the Race to Dubai, a season-long competition with points earned based on prize money, and he will win $1.25 million if he can hold off Justin Rose, the winner in Turkey. Fleetwood is competing despite the birth of his first child, a son, Franklin, on Sept. 28.
“Can you imagine if I had a week off and then lost by 20 grand?” he said. “I can’t let that happen, really.”
And yet, 11 eligible players for the Turkish Open, including the Spaniards Sergio Garcia, ranked No. 3 in the Race to Dubai, and Jon Rahm, ranked No. 4, passed on the paycheck there; it’s yet another measure of how lucrative the pro circuit has become that some players chose to bypass it. Twenty-six golfers, including Dunne, competed in all eight of the Rolex Series events.
Dunne has his own incentive to keep playing. As of Nov. 13, he ranked No. 15 in the Race to Dubai and should he remain inside the top 30, he will earn a place in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie in Scotland.
Dunne said losing his suitcase for four days in Morocco was a small price to pay for the winnings he’s amassed this season, 1.6 million euros, or about $1.8 million, so far. Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher, a 22-year tour veteran, estimated his golf bag gets lost two-to-three times a year. Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand said he felt fortunate that his clubs only went missing for a matter of hours in Turkey while Haotong Li of China ignored the highlighter-orange luggage tag that denoted his clubs weighed more than 60 pounds and warned baggage handlers in Turkey, “Please bend and use your legs.”
Flight cancellations, missed connections, lost luggage and bouts of food poisoning are par for the course on the European Tour. The toughest challenge for Dunne during his five-week odyssey, he said, was managing his sleep pattern. When he arrived in Turkey after nearly 16 hours of travel from Shanghai, he spent the majority of the day in bed.
“I was in a coma,” he said.
Pelley said the tour tracks the mileage between its tournaments and tries to factor travel into the equation when making up the schedule.
“Would it be better if they were two hours away or we had an airplane that just flew a little faster? Well, sure, but that’s not the reality we live in,” Pelley said. “We do the best we possibly can, but sometimes it can’t be avoided.”
Beginning in 2016, when the tour sandwiched back-to-back events in Antalya, Turkey, and Sun City, South Africa, it enlisted an overnight charter between destinationss. Of the 72 players in the field at the Nedbank Golf Challenge last week, 57 took advantage of the flight, which has been known to include England’s Danny Willett and Andy Sullivan serving drinks to help pass the time.
Pelley joined his players on the trip last year. Top players also regularly receive comped hotel rooms as an incentive to play and that package of incentives increases at Rolex Series events, the European Tour deputy media communications director Steve Todd said.
There will be no complaints from Matt Wallace of England regarding his arduous journey to play in the Rolex Series, which has a total purse of $57.5 million. At the Turkish Open, there was no 36-hole cut to worry about. A year ago at this time, Wallace flunked out of the second stage of European Tour Qualifying School and only had limited status on the Challenge Tour, the European Tour’s development circuit, for the upcoming season. He had dominated the Alps Tour, a minor-league circuit the equivalent of AA in baseball, where the largest winner’s check he cashed amounted to €5,000. That meant splitting expenses.
“We’d have one rental car with five sets of golf clubs,” Wallace said. “We stayed four- or five-deep in an Airbnb.”
Winners of practice-round matches got pick of the rooms. It taught Wallace how to take his game on the road. “I feel comfortable going anywhere,” he said.
Wallace won the Open de Portugal in May, which earned him €90,000, full status for two years on the European Tour and entry into the Rolex Series events. He played the first seven and parlayed the opportunity into even more money. He held the 54-hole lead at the Italian Open, and his fourth-place check for €297,121 was the largest of his career.
“I paid my caddie that week half what I earned the entire year when I won six times on the Alps Tour,” Wallace said.
That professional golfers will continue to chase the almighty dollar is as sure a thing as the jet lag they experience in their far-flung travels. “Whoever can develop a pill for jet lag will make a fortune,” Gallacher said.
Dunne will not even be done when the season concludes in Dubai. Next week he will be in Hong Kong for the start of the 2017-18 European Tour season. When Dunne finally gets back to Dublin he will have flown well over 36,000 miles in the past five weeks.
“It’s what we do,” said Dunne, with a shrug of his shoulders.