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  • Alistair Tait

Did Rolex apathy force strategic alliance?

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

Rory McIlroy, defending champion Jon Rahm, Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Shane Lowry and Louis Oosthuizen are conspicuous by their absence from this week’s DP World Tour Championship, Dubai. It’s not the first time a Rolex Series event has struggled to attract marquee European stars.

Is that one reason why the European Tour had to enter into a strategic alliance with the PGA Tour?

I had to chuckle at a tweet from Sky Sports Golf this morning which reads:

"The #DPWTC may be missing a few of the names that we would love to see play on the European Tour, but it's still going to be a star-powered event and it won't take away from what is always a brilliant tournament."

I felt like tweeting back “Pull the other one!” I didn’t. Quite a few Twitterati beat me to it. Former European Tour pro Gary Murphy tweeted:

“Still a great week to look forward to @EuropeanTour @dpwtc but disappointing most of the star dust has stayed away.”

In a piece for the Irish Mirror in which he hammers Rahm particularly, Murphy writes:

"The absence of Europe’s star names at this week’s season finale in Dubai is alarming.
"I wonder how the European Tour feels going to sponsors and trying to explain away or make excuses for these guys. It’s not right."

Of course it's alarming. Of course it's not right. Of course the absence of the above names is going to take away from the tournament. To state otherwise is absurd. Stars are what drive interest, and there will be less interest in the season finale as a result.

The Tour seems to have created a special exemption this week to get more “names” into the field: Category 0b – Any member not otherwise exempt from within the top 75 of the official World Golf Ranking as of 16th November. Enter Viktor Hovland, Danny Willett, Henrik Stenson and Jazz Janewattananond.

Can’t blame the tour with so many stay away stars. Besides, who wouldn’t want to get Hovland in the field?

Attracting top names has been a problem for quite a few Rolex Series events since its 2017 inception. We were told when the series began it would encourage the top stars to return more to their home circuit, and encourage younger stars to stay at home. When Pelley launched the series during the 2016 DP World Tour Championship, he said:

“We need a product that can grow over time, that provides a strong financial offering to our young players so they don’t have to go to the United States.”

The jury’s out on that statement. Unsurprisingly, the likes of Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Danny Willett and Matt Wallace have all shown a huge desire to follow established European stars onto the PGA Tour. You can bet young guns Robert MacIntyre, Marcus Kinhult, Wilco Nienaber, Sam Horsfield, Rasmus Hojgaard and others are hoping to join the PGA Tour gravy train too.

As for the top names, in 2016 McIlroy said:

“It gives guys an incentive to maybe play a little bit more on this side of the pond.”

The emphasis is perhaps on “little.” Our top stars have so much money they can pick and choose Rolex Series events, even a possible end of season bonanza like the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai with a $3 million first-place prize. Besides, why do the top names have to travel across the world just before Christmas when they can command six-seven figures appearance fees just for playing in non-Rolex Series events? Garcia, Rose, Casey, Lowry all probably have valid reasons for skipping this week, yet they’ve signed up to play in the Saudi International in February. You can bet they’re not traveling to Riyadh for the scenery.

Despite what Sky Sports Golf says, you have to think Rolex will be disappointed with the absence of the star names this week. I’d love to get an honest opinion from Rolex execs on how they feel the series has gone since its inception. Not bad, but could have been better might be words on the report card.

Both the Turkish Airlines Open and the Nedbank Golf Challenge were cancelled this year due to coronavirus, but they’ve struggled to attract many marquee European Tour names since the series was launched.

Pelley had big hopes for the Rolex Series when he proudly announced its launch. He said:

“Our goal is eight or nine in 2017 with a goal of 10 by 2018.”

He never reached that goal. The series has never exceeded eight events.

No criticism of Pelley for his bold move. He obviously hoped to use the series as leverage to attract other sponsors to inject a minimum of $7 million into the tour’s coffers. Maybe if that had happened, and if more of the names had played in more Rolex Series events, then the tour would be in even more “robust financial health.” Maybe 68 excellent employees wouldn’t have lost their jobs. Maybe it wouldn’t have felt the need to enter into a strategic alliance with the PGA Tour.

#JustSaying: “I made $700 for winning my first U.S. Open and $500 for the Open. Today, a good, young golfer doesn’t have to be a champion. He gets $150,000 for wearing a logo on his sleeve.” Gary Player in 1998

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