European Tour Swansong as LIV Looms on the Valderrama Horizon?

17 Oct

This year’s Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters could have been the last European Tour event to be held at Royal Valderrama Club. At least for the foreseeable future, as rumours are rife that Spain’s most renowned course will be hosting an LIV event next year.

The fledgling LIV Tour, which has drawn criticism in some quarters because of the source of its funding (a Saudi Arabian investment fund), has reportedly been in secret conversations with Valderrama to obtain members’ approval – as it is a private club. A July date the week before the 2023 British Open Championship is being touted for an LIV event at the venerable club.

Valderrama is believed to be annoyed at the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) for not meeting its expectations of hosting a much higher-status event – for example, one of the lucrative Rolex Series tournaments or a co-sanctioned event with the US PGA Tour.

The 2022 Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters attracted a relatively low-key field, with the only “international” drawcard, reigning US Open winner and defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick, eventually missing the cut.

Valderrama first hosted a European Tour event in 1988 (the inaugural Volvo Masters) and has since been the venue for 15 other editions of the Volvo Masters, eight Andalucía Masters, one Spanish Open, two World Golf Championships and the historic 1997 Ryder Cup.

Although both Sergio García and Jon Rahm have played in recent editions of the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters, neither was present this year.

Australian Min Woo Lee

In their absence, and in what must have been a delicious irony for LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman and his corporate backers, 29-year-old Basque Adrián Otaegui dominated the event, winning by six shots from second-placed Swede Joakim Lagergren, with a tournament record 19-under-par.

Otaegui, who has been playing on both tours pending a court case, is the first LIV player to win a DP World Tour title. Furthermore, and adding to the awkwardness, victory at Valderrama propelled him into the top-10 of the Race to Dubai order of merit.

Otaegui played in the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational in London in June, and two subsequent tournaments in Portland and Boston. The DP World Tour suspended him and other tour members who competed on the rival tour for three events and fined them £100,000, but they appealed the decision to an arbiter, and the suspensions were stayed.

A full hearing is scheduled in the UK for February when it will be decided if the DP World Tour can ban “defectors” from playing in its events. In the meantime, LIV golfers are allowed to enter DP World Tour events, although their reception has been cool. 

At Valderrama, Otaegui was making his ninth DP World start since June. He has missed the last three LIV events and is not listed in the field for that tour’s inaugural season finale from 28 to 30 October.

Returning to Valderrama… after Fitzpatrick (10th), the next highest world-ranked player was New Zealander Ryan Fox (25th), who also missed the cut. 

Ángel Hidalgo (Photos supplied by Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters)

Australia’s Min Woo Lee (58th), fresh from his third place in the previous week’s Spanish Open in Madrid (won by Rahm) was third again at Valderrama, nine shots behind Otaegui, while home favourite Ángel Hidalgo (a former top junior based out of Guadalmina who is now officially attached to Las Brisas in Marbella) was fourth another two strokes back, in the process securing his Tour card for 2023. 

Interestingly, in 1992 Greg Norman won an 18-hole European Skins Game competition at Valderrama, against Fred Couples, José María Olazábal, Ian Woosnam and Ian Baker-Finch.

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