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  • Alistair Tait

Can Pelley Secure His Golfing Legacy?


You have to wonder when Keith Pelley’s Road to Damascus moment occurred. That’s one thought after reading the outgoing European Tour chief executive’s comments in Dubai this week.

“What I would like to see is the game becoming unified with a global strategy,” Pelley said. “The growth of the game is global. I think that’s where the focus needs to be”

Is this the same Keith Pelley who once had a chance to strengthen the European Tour’s presence on a truly global stage but spurned that chance to form a “strategic alliance” with the PGA Tour? It certainly is.

 

The 60-year-old Canadian, who in April heads back to Canada to become president and chief executive of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, says there’s common desire for a global game.

“I think with the emergence of FSG (Fenway Sports Group), which owns Liverpool, they understand the importance of global. PIF (Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund) certainly understands the importance of being global.”

Oh, and not just FSG and the PIF.

“I think the PGA Tour is coming to the realisation global is the key for the growth,” Pelley asserts. “They have heard me say it once or twice.” 

Did he say it even once when he signed the Euro Tour into a 13-year strategic alliance with the PGA Tour? Doubtful, considering until June last year Pelley and PGA Tour CEO Jay Monahan viewed the PIF and LIV Golf as the evil empire.

 

Fact is, the body Pelley is leaving is the weak partner in talks involving the PIF, FSG and the PGA Tour. Imagine how strong a position the now DP World Tour would be in if Pelley had taken a different course of action regarding the PIF when he had the chance.

 

As one former high ranking European Tour official said to me recently upon the news of Pelley’s departure:

“His legacy will be how he dropped the ball with the world at his feet.”

Former European Tour chief executive Ken Schofield was more forthright. In a Golf Digest article, Schofield tells John Huggan:

“Not going with the Saudis astonished me. Had they come to us back in the day, my board would have demanded that we find a way forward with them. I like to think I wouldn’t have needed to be directed to do just that. I would have done so without being told. That was my job. Now, of course, the European Tour is at the beck and call of Mr. Monahan. They had the chance to be on the top floor with the Saudis.”

Much has been written about Pelley’s legacy. Most of it positive, but there are question marks over his time in office.

 

Pelley’s willingness to think outside the box was a breath of fresh air. He introduced innovative events that went against the grain of standard 72-hole stroke play: the Belgian Knockout, the Shot-Clock Masters and GolfSixes.

 

He introduced the Rolex Series, tournaments worth a minimum of $7 million. His greatest achievement may have been putting a schedule together during Covid, a huge feat considering the many logistical problems of dealing with so many different nations.

 

He also introduced the G4D Tour, for which he also deserves massive credit.


However...

 

Those innovative events? They no longer exist. The Shot Clock Masters was only played once. The Belgian knockout only lasted two years. The GolfSixes was played three times.

 

Those lucrative Rolex Series events designed to entice Europe’s big stars to play their home circuit? Pelly’s goal was 10 per year. The series peaked at eight tournaments, while there have been five on the schedule the last few years, and three of those are in the United Arab Emirates. Oh, and it would be interesting to find out the cost to Euro Tour coffers to subsidise said Rolex events.

 

Getting DP World as title sponsors was a big deal. However, even the lucrative prize fund for the season ending DP World Tour Championship, $10 million this year, isn’t enough to lure Europe’s top stars every season. Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Justin Rose are among the top players who’ve skipped the tournament in recent years.

 

European stalwarts such as Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer were cast as pariahs during Pelley’s reign. A tag they did not deserve.

 

Most controversial of all Pelley’s moves is sending the top-10 most promising Euro Tour players to the PGA Tour every year. Eddie Pepperrell called that decision a “disaster,” and many agree. How is giving away your 10 most promising prospects to a rival good for any business?

 

Pelley’s legacy to this grand old game will be in little doubt if he can play even a small part over the next few months to make professional golf truly global. That's a tall order. Indeed, it might be the impossible dream since there has been no appetite for it over the decades.

 

Peter Thomson advocated a world tour long before Pelley was even a boy dreaming of playing for his beloved Maple Leafs. Greg Norman was denounced as a heretic for calling for a world tour back in the 1990s.

 

For those who don’t see the world of golf through PGA Tour-tinted spectacles – and goodness knows there are plenty who can’t see beyond PGA Tour hegemony – a world tour makes perfect sense.

 

If only Pelley had realised that when LIV Golf came into existence and had implored everyone to get around the table and do what was best for golf, then the professional game might not be in its current mess. Still, better late than never I suppose.

 

#JustSaying: “Keith’s greatest period was probably Covid…He was amazing during that period, a real leader.” Thomas Bjorn

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