When Richard Green left the Portugal Masters towards the end of October it would be a stretch to say he was happy with the European Tour season that had – for him at least – just ended. A nagging back injury meant he played only four times by the end of April and led to on-course struggles that saw him record only two top-ten finishes in 21 starts. Not surprisingly, his winnings of €218,283 were only good enough for 121st place on the “Race to Dubai,” ten spots short of retaining his tour card.
No matter. Sitting 39th on the European Tour’s all-time career money-list meant Green could claim the one-year exemption for the 2016-17 season available to all of those in the top-40. On that basis, he paid his dues for a year he thought would be spent as a category-11 member entitled to play pretty much as often as he wished.
But that was then. Sitting at home last weekend, Green received an e-mail from the European Tour. As he had expected, South African Branden Grace had passed him on the career money-list. But so had Alex Noren, the winner of the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City. Suddenly, Green was ranked 41st on that all-important list – a mere €19,293 behind 40th – and a category-18 member of the tour able to play only sparingly.
“I went to Portugal knowing I had to play well if I was going to keep my card off this years money-list,” says a still shell-shocked Green, who will be teeing-up at Royal Sydney in this week’s Emirates Australian Open. “But even when I missed the cut I felt like I would be okay claiming my career exemption for next year. I expected Branden to pass me, but it was unlikely that anyone else would do so. I certainly wasn’t thinking about Alex; there was three or four players on the list between myself and him.
“In hindsight I should maybe have claimed a medical exemption for next season, but I felt like I could play well enough to keep my card even after not being able to play for three months or so. And even if I didn’t, the career money thing was there for me.”
In the short term, the toughest thing for Green going forward is that he has gone from being able to play whenever and wherever he wants to sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring and offer him a last-minute spot in some far-flung event. For someone who has won three times in Europe over the course of a 20-year career and accumulated nearly €10m in prize money, that is a bitter pill to swallow.
“The hardest part of all this has been accepting what has happened,” says Green, who will at least be guaranteed three starts next year as a past champion in Portugal, Dubai and Austria. “But I have to deal with it as best I can. It’s tough to take after what I feel like has been a pretty strong career. I’ve played well over the years and won a lot of cash. I was proud of the fact that I was in the top-40 money-winners. There are a lot of great names on that list. So I’m feeling a bit unlucky that it has come to this.”
Still, all is far from lost for the likeable 45-year old Victorian. After the star-studded run of events in the Middle East early next year, many of the European Tour’s better players compete only sparingly on their home circuit through February, March and April. It would come as a major surprise if such a respected figure were not to receive his share of sponsors invitations. Given what he has endured over the last few days, he deserves nothing less.