by Ronan MacNamara
Jonathan Caldwell by Golffile
Collin Morikawa became the first American to win the Race to Dubai last week as we bid farewell to the European Tour as we know it while the DP World Tour was waiting in the wings ready to pounce and slot in as if nothing happened.
So what do we know about the DP World Tour, what’s new? Well, nothing really we have a fairly underwhelming opening tournament pencilled in to kick off the 2022 season and the new logo had about as much thought put into it as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer put into tactically preparing his football teams.
The Joburg Open kicks off the new DP World Tour which will be called the European Tour for a few weeks at least until we all remember that this tour is now run by the company in Dubai.
Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg plays host to the event for the fifth consecutive year as the new season kicks off in the altitude which makes this long par-71 play comfortably shorter than the card length suggests.
The 2021 European Tour season was a mixed one for the Irish players outside of Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington. Jonathan Caldwell tees it up looking to hit the ground running after a career-changing season last year.
The Clandeboye native won the Scandinavian Mixed last summer and that culminated in him playing competitive golf for the first time in Dubai a fortnight ago.
Caldwell finished 97th on the Race to Dubai last season and can play with an element of freedom this year with a two-year exemption in his back pocket.
In contrast Cormac Sharvin and Paul Dunne arrive in South Africa looking to forget a disastrous season on the European Tour.
Sharvin of Ardglass was unable to maintain his full privileges for the DP World Tour this season and will ply the majority of his trade on the Challenge Tour unless he can progress through Q-School so limited starts on the top-tier are an opportunity he needs to make the most of.
The 29-year-old had his card taken away from him before he could even have one final attempt to keep it after a positive Covid test forced him to withdraw from the AVIV Dubai Championship two weeks ago.
Since then, the former Walker Cup star has returned home to Ireland to dust himself down and won the Taylormade Winter Series in Portmarnock last week so he’s not been resting on his laurels or feeling sorry for himself.
The distance he can hit the ball he should feel very comfortable in the altitude this week and who knows, maybe having the pressure off this week might get the best out of Sharvin.
Paul Dunne arrives looking to make his first cut since the Betfred British Masters in May. It has been a nightmare two years for the Greystones native who has struggled to get back in the groove after being hampered by a persistent wrist injury.
Dunne has plummeted as far as 1783rd in the Official World Golf Rankings and hasn’t played tournament golf since the Mallorca Open last month.
Niall Kearney should look forward to the new DP World Tour with the increased prize money in the smaller events designed to help players like him earn enough dosh to keep his card for next season.
The Dubliner was certainly a victim of the old European Tour system where he was unable to keep his card due to being ineligible to start in some crucial events in the run in to Dubai because of his Tour status.
The Royal Dublin player finished 133rd on the Race to Dubai despite ranking 8th in stroke average for the season after 15 starts.
Kearney played relatively regularly up until the end of August where he finished 29th at the Czech Masters before waiting a month before he teed it up again, finishing 12th in the Dutch Open.
Another month passed before he missed the cut in Mallorca which brought the curtain down on his season.
The fact is, Kearney was so consistent in his fifteen starts, racking up two top-10s and two top-12 finishes while only missing four cuts. It was the lack of invites over the autumn period and mediocre prize funds throughout the season that cost him his full playing rights as the sponsors invites he craved over November were not forthcoming.
After the South African swing the minimum prize purse for tournaments will be $2 million which will be huge for players like Kearney who belongs at this level.
The South African participation is quite poor for this event with Dean Burmester and Dylan Frittelli leading the springbok charge while Wilco Nienaber will be looking to go one better than his runner-up finish here last year.
In the absence of Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Charl Schwartzel it’s a weak field to kick off the new DP World Tour era before two big events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the New Year.