A Crux Year For The European Tour?
How will the 2023 European Tour season be remembered by golf historians 100 years from now? As the year the tour grew to bigger heights thanks to the strategic alliance with the PGA Tour? Or as the beginning of the end because of its battle with LIV Golf?
We probably won’t know after the end of this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the first event of the calendar year on what is now the DP World Tour. Obviously those so-called LIV Golf rebels and tour officials haven’t kissed and made up and said let’s talk this over like gentlemen. That much is obvious from Lee Westwood's quotes in John Huggan’s Golf Digest story:
“There was a message sent out the other day to players. It was just propaganda aimed at stoking up tensions between players who aren’t with LIV against those who are with LIV. Why do that? ... There has been no animosity to me from other players. It’s only come from one place (the tour).”
Imagine casting a guy like Westwood as an outcast: the three-time European number one is making his 588th European Tour appearance this week.
Talk about pettiness personified.
It’ll be just as petty next week when Rory McIlroy makes his calendar year debut in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic.
The fortunes of the European Tour and those who have joined LIV will be decided next month in a court of arbitration to decide if the tour injunction implemented before last year’s Scottish Open is fair.
That ruling could have profound implications for the circuit the great John Jacobs fathered in the early 1970s. You have to wonder how JJ would have handled things today were he still around. Would he have been as petty as current chief executive Keith Pelley (pictured) to treat long-standing members like Westwood, Ian Poulter and others with such disdain?
What happens to the tour’s strategic alliance with the PGA Tour if the ruling says players can have dual membership on the European and LIV Golf tours, in the same way many have with the PGA/European Tours, Asian/European Tours, Sunshine/European Tours etc? Losing that ruling might actually be a boon for the European Tour. There’s only one world top 20 player, Shane Lowry, in Abu Dhabi this week, a Rolex tournament worth $9 million. Hard to believe sponsors wouldn’t want star names like Westwood, Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell and rising stars like Sam Horsfield, Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra and others when the PGA Tour is demanding its members compete more often.
Surely Pelley is going to have egg on his face if the ruling goes against him? His PGA Tour counterpart Jay Monahan won’t be too happy at a second straight year of LIV players competing in the Scottish Open.
Pelley and Monahan are obviously planning more co-sanctioned events? Do those plans go ahead if the court rules in favour of the LIV boys?
And will there be an exodus of current European Tour players to LIV if the court rules against the tour? Remember, the PGA Tour isn’t the land of milk and honey for all Europeans who happen to be extremely proficient with a mashie. Whisper it, but there are some who’d probably be just as happy to play their quota of European Tour events, the 14 LIV events along with the majors and forget all about the PGA Tour. Not every player who comes through the European ranks wants to play in the land of the free.
The tour has been through a wee bit of turbulence in its 50-year history since the 1972 Spanish Open, the first official event: Seve’s dispute over appearance fees, which saw the legend miss the 1981 Ryder Cup; the Gang of Four, when Seve, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo and Jose Maria Olazabal took the tour to task over its finances; renegotiating the long-standing partnership with the Professional Golfers’ Association to give the tour a greater share of Ryder Cup revenues; the 2008 financial crash which threatened the tour’s financial deal with partners Leisurecorp and Jumeiriah Estates; Covid-19, with Pelley and his charges doing a brilliant job staging tournaments despite the turmoil.
The tour has come through these situations and emerged relatively unscathed. LIV Golf’s existence may dwarf the above. Rest assured in the triangle that is the PGA Tour, European Tour and LIV Golf, the old world circuit is clearly the weakest link and could suffer immensely.
For the record, I hope the tour I’ve covered for over 30 years is still going strong 30 years hence, is still putting together winning Ryder Cup teams and giving young Europeans a chance to chase their golfing dreams. But I fear the worst.
If we thought 2022 was turbulent, then we might be in for a shock this year.
#JustSaying: “As a tour, could this tour be better? Yeah, obviously, we could all be better in anything that we do. But, with a steady growth over the next number of years, I do think this tour will keep improving.” Shane Lowry