Time for Tee at the BMW PGA Championship

Each year, on 1 January, I sit down in a quiet place with a pen and paper and write a list of things I’d like to achieve in the year ahead. Growing up, I was encouraged to do this, but on one condition – the ambitions had to be so outrageous, that if you ever shared them, you’d be laughed at. Without boring you with the full lists from the past ten years and going through each and every ambition yet to be fulfilled, I am here to tell you that I have recently been able to scratch one off the list when I played in the Pro-Am at Wentworth the day before the BMW PGA Championship.

I love golf – I really do. It’s a place to disappear from life, to reconnect with nature, to basically go on a walk with a bunch of mates and hit things along the way. So, you can imagine my excitement when Revolution UK’s editor asked me to take on this assignment. I’m not a bad golfer, but I’m by no means a great golfer. I’ve never been a member of a club and, as a result, I’ve never earned a handicap (something I kept very quiet on the day). Now I was going to be off to Wentworth – one of the meccas of golf and my playing partners for the day were to be Rolex Testimonee and European Tour professional Matthew Fitzpatrick, and fellow amateur Pascal Grizot, President of the Ryder Cup 2018.

I didn’t get much sleep the night before the big day – my alarm was set for 5am but it wasn’t required. A car collected me at 6am and we duly arrived at Wentworth to find the TV cameras rolling and the clubhouse buzzing with energy. First played in 1955, and part of the European Tour International Schedule since the Tour’s inception in 1972, the BMW PGA Championship boasts a rich history. Widely regarded as one of the most high-profile tournaments in golf, it has been held on the legendary West Course at Wentworth Club every year since 1984, with a roll call of champions including Sir Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, José Maria Olazábal, Colin Montgomerie and Rory McIlroy – Montgomerie creating history in 2000 when he became the first player to win the tournament three years in succession.

Following a quick breakfast, we arrived at the first. Well, not technically the first, because it was a tournament, with several teams all teeing off at the same time, players had to start on different holes – for us it was the 18th. Henrik Stenson had just teed off in front of us, the crowd had grown to a couple of hundred strong and I was anxious, as my partners had all struck their balls down the fairway and I was up. I struggled to even put the tee in the ground, let alone hit the damn thing. Following a two putt on the green (which was like glass) I exited with a par – it could have been a hell of a lot worse.

Memorable moments in the round included my ball ending up in a bunker at the 2nd. Now, the rules of the tournament stipulated that as amateurs we play the best drive (not mine on this occasion) but, as I jumped in to collect the ball, a chant came from the crowd of maybe 400 hundred watching: “Play it! Play it! Play it!” I had no option and, after some advice from Fitzpatrick, I played the shot of my life – the ball gently hit the green and settled two feet from the pin. It felt great climbing out to the applause, tapping the sand off my shoes with my wedge (I had always wanted to know what that felt like having watched the pros do it for years on TV).

Rolex takes Gold

For Rolex, the golfing relationship started 50 years ago when the brand partnered with Arnold Palmer, the first modern hero of the sport. Following Palmer, Rolex went on to sign Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and, in the 1980s, began sponsoring tournaments such as the Open and the US Open. It also began sponsoring the R&A and USGA – the guardians of the traditions and rules of the game – as well as the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA). The Ryder Cup and the European Tour were added to the portfolio in the 1990s.

What sets Rolex apart is its desire to support golf at all levels of the game – from sporting legends to current champions, major championships to team formats for juniors and seniors. It’s a real statement of long-term commitment to the great sport. Since 2000, Rolex has pushed deeper into the fabric of golf, becoming the official timing partner and/or sponsor for the Evian Championship, the Presidents Cup, the women’s World Rankings, the Asian Tour, the World Amateur Golf Ranking and the Senior Open Championship. Just like its Testimonees, Rolex has continued to strive for dominance – and now, just when you thought there was nothing more Rolex could do in the game, we celebrate the inaugural Rolex Series in partnership with the European Tour.

The Rolex Series

The new Rolex Series is without question one of the most significant advancements in the European Tour’s 45 years. The series features eight of the most prestigious tournaments on the European Tour’s International Schedule and celebrates top-notch golf, as well as the 20-year partnership between the European Tour and Rolex. One huge draw for the players is the financial opportunity the Series presents, with each event offering a minimum prize fund of US$7 million.

According to Rolex: “For 50 years, the brand has been intimately linked to the world of golf, and the Rolex Series represents an ambitious commitment to continue our unwavering support of the game and of the European Tour. It is fitting that this exciting new initiative should begin at the European Tour’s home at Wentworth Club, at an event where the Rolex family of golf Testimonees has celebrated 11 victories to date.  As we celebrate the commencement of the inaugural Rolex Series event, we extend our support to all our Testimonees and the other European Tour members, that are contesting this milestone event.”

The 2017 roster of Rolex Series tournaments includes: the BMW PGA Championship (25-28 May), the HNA Open de France (29 June-2July), the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation (6-9 July), the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open (13-16 July), the Italian Open (12-15 October), the Turkish Airlines Open (November 2-5), the Nedbank Golf Challenge (9-12 November) and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai (16-19 November), where the leading golfer of the Race to Dubai rankings will be crowned.

Top Team

My fellow players at Wentworth are what really made the day special. Matthew Fitzpatrick is a seriously good golfer and, having prepared myself for what I thought I’d see, he surpassed it. The sound of his driver when he hit it off the tee was what I imagine a sniper discharging his weapon in action to sound like. He became a Rolex Testimonee in 2016 and, at just 22 years old, is one of the youngest players on the European Tour. He turned professional in June 2014 and made his debut at the 2014 Irish Open where he placed in the top 30. Currently ranked world number 37, he has played in all four Major championships, recording his best score of joint-seventh at the 2016 Masters Tournament. Since turning professional, he has won the 2015 British Masters, the 2016 Nordea Masters and the 2016 DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

When Fitzpatrick and I sat down after the round, I took the opportunity to talk watches with him. “My first Rolex when I signed was a platinum Cosmograph Daytona,” he says smiling.  “I chose the platinum because it’s different and I wanted my first one to be the one I really liked – the one that spoke to me.” So, where does he go from here? “Well, the next one I have my eye on is the Everose Yacht-Master II” he says, laughing.

On his partnership with Rolex, Fitzpatrick says: “There isn’t anybody on earth who doesn’t know Rolex. It’s a little childish, but I love telling my mates back home I’ve got my Rolex on. There isn’t another brand I’d rather be associated with. I’ve always been interested in watches and I received my first Rolex after winning the DP World Tour Championship – I was still buzzing from the win and then at the presentation I was presented with a stainless-steel Datejust – the coolest bit is that it has DP World Championships engraved on the back. I don’t wear that one though – nor the Daytona I won in the Ryder Cup with a similar engraving. I just feel they are way too special.”

On the new Series, Fitzpatrick enthuses: “When I arrived here today there was this real buzz, even in the European Tour meeting yesterday, the players were excited to be back in the UK. The UK fans really are the best in the world – or at least for me. The Pro Am today saw more people out there than ever before and I’m sure that has something to do with the Rolex partnership. If you look at where the Series goes, it’s great, it gives the European Tour a real oomph and helps it compete with the US Tour. I really feel that guys are going to want to come over here and play rather than the US – I mean you have US$7 million worth of events here in England, Ireland and Scotland. As a player, if you’re based in Europe, you don’t want to be flying for hours, you want to be as close to home as possible.

“The Rolex Series gives up-and-coming golfers an opportunity to play on brilliant courses, alongside the very best, which you really have to do if you want to get anywhere. It also provides a wonderful opportunity for young golfers to come with their parents and watch, particularly on days like today with so many recognisable faces playing.”

Easy Ryder

There are a few sporting moments that will live long in my memory. One will be watching Martin Johnson lift the Webb Ellis Cup in Sydney when England won the Rugby Wold Cup in 2003. Another would, without question, be the 2012 Ryder Cup – the so-called “Miracle at Medinah” – regarded by many as one of the best sporting comebacks of all time when Europe retained the trophy with a one-point victory.

The scenes that unfolded that afternoon will be remembered for many years to come. The next Ryder Cup will be held in France in 2018 and one of my team-mates at Wentworth, Pascal Grizot, was at the helm of making that happen.

Grizot has two passions in his life: business and golf, proving himself to be extremely talented in both. In golf, he has won a number of individual titles and team competitions. A Vice President of the French Golf Federation’s Elite Committee, he has also been the captain of the French men’s teams for the past seven years, presiding over the country’s maiden Eisenhower Trophy win in 2010 and, a year later, victory in the European Amateur Team Championship, an event in which the French finished second in 2007.

Perhaps Pascal’s greatest triumph, however, came in taking charge of the Ryder Cup project and playing an instrumental part in France being selected to host the prestigious competition next year. Drawing on all his creative and lobbying skills, he built up a fruitful and constructive relationship with the European Tour, with his attention to detail proving crucial in bringing the Ryder Cup to France. And, as one of the best days of my life draws to a close, I contemplate how fascinating it will be to watch the players in the new Rolex Series, especially bearing in mind how important it will be for Ryder Cup selection. I wish everyone the best – but especially my friend and team-mate Matthew Fitzpatrick.

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