The biggest change in professional golf over the past 40 years may not be in equipment but competitiveness.
Earning a spot on one of the world’s Tours is a much more difficult task in 2021 than 1981 and the winner of this week’s European Tour event neatly highlights the point.
American John Catlin earned his way to the world’s second biggest circuit the hard way, beginning on the Asian Development Tour in 2016.
Two wins there in two years earned him status on the main Asian Tour in 2018 where he captured another three titles.
Trophies and winner’s cheques aside, the biggest bonus of that sterling play was a place on the European Tour in 2019 where he has since parlayed his success into three victories.
Contrast that path to the big show with what players wanting to ply their trade in Europe faced in the early 1980’s.
"Earning a spot on one of the world’s Tours is a much more difficult task in 2021 than 1981 and the winner of this week’s European Tour event neatly highlights the point." - Rod Morri.
Peter Senior succinctly summed up the way things have changed when he appeared on The Thing About Golf podcast in 2019.
“In 1983 or ’84 Wayne Grady and I decided to go to Europe,” he said. “The qualifying over there was you rocked up on Monday and there was probably about 30 spots and if you shot 76 you’d get in the tournament.
“Now if you shot 66 you probably wouldn’t get in the tournament.”
That second part is certainly true as anybody who follows the excellent @acaseofthegolf1 Twitter account knows only too well.
Monday qualifying might be the most brutal of all places to be in the modern professional game.
All of which only highlights how destructive the Covid 19 pandemic has been for so many, especially for players from this part of the world.
The Asian Tour and its Development Tour have not played an event in more than a year and there seems little hope of that changing in the immediate future.
Who’s to say how many John Catlin stories we might be missing out on while that situation remains?
The pathways to the top of the game are difficult enough without one potential route being closed and for emerging talents like Travis Smyth, Ben Eccles and Jake Higginbottom the frustration must be immense.
A more competitive professional game is a good outcome for spectators and sponsors alike and as the old saying goes if you’re good enough you’ll make it.
But as has been the case for so many businesses, Covid has disrupted the careers of many professional golfers through no fault of their own.
As Peter Senior also noted in that 2019 interview it was already a difficult path with the veteran suggesting there were “probably 10 young guys in Australia that could be very competitive on the main Tour but they can’t get a start”.
The disruption to the Asian Tour certainly hasn’t helped and it may be some years before we know the full extent of the damage.