Why Morikawa’s Race to Dubai Win is Confirmation That Change Is Needed

Morikawa has been crowned 2021 Race to Dubai Champion despite only playing three European Tour events

Collin Morikawa poses with the Race to Dubai trophy
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Collin Morikawa fired birdies in five of his final seven holes on his way to a closing 66 and victory in the 2021 DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. He finished three clear of defending champion, Matt Fitzpatrick, and Sweden’s Alexander Bjork. 

Rory Mcilroy was in contention throughout the week but a late falter on Sunday left him five back in sixth place and ripping his shirt in frustration following the round. 

The victory secured Morikawa the season long Race to Dubai title – becoming the first American to do so in the process.

Winning in Dubai caps off what has been a sensational year for the 24-year old, who backed up victory at the WGC-Workday Championship with his second Major title at the Open Championship. He was also a key figure on USA’s winning Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits.

“It’s very special and an honour”, Morikawa said. “To be the first American to do that and to put my name against many greats is special” 

So, what’s the problem?

On face value, nothing. Morikawa is a breath of fresh air. He has a near-flawless technique, a steely grit that we haven’t seen since a certain big cat prowled the fairways and as his victory speeches show, he’s a gracious and polite young man.  

Since turning professional some two and a half years ago, he has left the history books in his wake. He earned his Tour card in quick fashion and immediately followed with 22 straight cuts – something only bettered by Tiger Woods (25). 

He went on to win the 2020 PGA Championship and the 2021 Open Championship and became the first player since Bobby Jones to win two Majors in eight or fewer starts. 

The manner of his performances and subsequent tournament victories are unquestioned and we will be writing about him for many years to come. For now, the only thing to question is the Race to Dubai title. 

The European Tour credits Morikawa with ten tournament appearances this year. This includes Major Championship and World Golf Championship (WGC) events as they are co-sanctioned by both the PGA and European Tour - meaning they both count towards their respective season long standings. 

If we exclude the Majors and WGCs, Morikawa has played in just three standalone European Tour events. This, alongside a comparison to the 1995 Order of Merit, won by Colin Montgomerie, is captured perfectly by @UKGolfGuy.

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The Race to Dubai title is reserved for the player who has accrued the most points throughout the course of the season. 

Of course, the Major Championships and WGCs are global events and played under the most severe course conditions and pressure. Not to mention alongside the very best players in the world. But to have a system which rewards a player with a season-long prize when featuring in technically only three of their events, feels misunderstood. Wherever your opinion lays, it’s not wrong. 

You are not alone

Now this isn’t intended to criticise Morikawa, his performances or even his tournament playing schedule. Instead, it’s to beg the question – are we cool with it? 

This isn’t a standalone experience either. In fact, the total number of tournaments played by the eventual season long champion has dramatically changed in the last decade. Between 2000-2010, the Race to Dubai Champion (or Order of Merit as it would have otherwise been known) averaged 14 standalone events. 

Between 2011-2021, the average events played by the winner was six. That is a 57% difference.  It was a similar story with Jon Rahm in 2019 (five events) and Francesco Molinari (four) the year prior.  In fact, with the exception of Tommy Fleetwood in 2017, the last winner to play in double digit standalone events was Martin Kaymer in 2010. That’s 11 years ago! 

Between 2000-2010, only Justin Rose (2007) and Ernie Els (2004) played in less than ten. 

What does that mean?

This is concerning for the European Tour in many ways. It shows how a member can participate almost solely on the PGA Tour and through their performances in the Majors and WGCs, find themselves in position to win the Race to Dubai title.

It also breeds a level of acceptance amongst other Tour members; who may view it as a stepping stone to the PGA Tour as a result, which would mean ‘weaker’ fields week-in, week-out, on the European Tour.

Colin Montgomerie has often said he wouldn’t swap any of his Order of Merit titles for a Major Championship however, in the current climate, I wonder if that would be the case.

Jon Rahm withdrew from the DP World Tour Championship despite being, at the time, third in the Race to Dubai standings. He was in prime position given he had already tasted success twice at the Jumeriah Golf Estates. In Rahm’s case, there are extenuated circumstances. He is a new father and I’m sure the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic is a legitimate reason after two positive Covid-19 tests already this year. But it begs the question, would the World No.1 have pulled out of a Major? Or even the PGA Tour's Tour Championship when in position to win? I doubt it.

It leaves me with the impression the Race to Dubai title might not be the coveted prize it once was. 

What’s the solution?

From 2022, the European Tour becomes the DP World Tour, with 47 events across 27 different countries and a total prize fund that tops $200 million. This is a significant increase when compared to $104 million in 2021 and $70 million in 2020. By and large, this was a positive move for the tour and a bid to attract the better ranking players to its events. 

Since then, the PGA Tour has announced an increase in its FedEx Cup prize to $75 million (+$15 million) as well as an increase in the official prize money from $367m to $427m. Average purses are also up from $8m to $9.1m.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Player Impact Programme will now be worth a whopping $50m and the Tour will award each player that competes in 15 events with a bonus of $50,000. 

Their flagship event, The Players Championship, will now be worth a staggering $20m. Purely from a financial perspective, the European Tour cannot compete.

What it can do is run a fair Tour by its players and an immediate review of the points structure seems appropriate. This would see the Tour fairly assign points across all its events, including the Majors and WGCs, and credit its tournament winners more. After all, ask any pro, winning isn’t easy.

The Tour could introduce a minimum number of events each player must take part in. If a player fails to fulfil that number then they are ineligible for the season-long prize.

Finally, they could introduce a loyalty bonus for those that commit their playing time to the new DP World Tour. This would incentivise players to adopt their schedule and reserve the Race to Dubai title for those that have spent thousands of hours competing on the DP World Tour.

What do you think? Is this something of nothing or would you like to see change? Let us know on social media

James Hibbitt
James Hibbitt

James recently joined Golf Monthly as a content contributor having previously written for other online outlets. He is obsessed with all areas of the game – From tournament golf, to history, equipment, technique and travel. He is also an avid collector of memorabilia; with signed items from the likes of Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els and Johnny Miller. As well as writing for Golf Monthly, James’ golfing highlight is fist bumping Phil Mickelson on his way to winning the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2013. James grew up on the east coast of England and is the third generation of his golfing family. He now resides in Leeds and is a member of Cobble Hall Golf Club with a handicap index of 1.7.