• Alistair Tait

European Tour needs Seve spirit to repel PGA Tour takeover


Seve Ballesteros must be spitting into his Rioja in that great clubhouse in the sky at the mere thought of the PGA Tour taking over the European Tour.

Ballesteros’s legacy is one reason the European Tour won’t roll over and let the PGA Tour rub its belly in some sort of buyout deal, despite what you might have read recently.

The world’s second biggest circuit will/should fight tooth and nail to keep its autonomy rather than become the European division of the PGA Tour.

Global Golf Post has an interesting package this week speculating on how men’s professional golf will look like post coronavirus. The publication hints at a new world order. John Hopkins writes:

“How to describe the anticipated change in the world order involving the PGA Tour and European Tour? A merger, a takeover, a subset, a division, as reverse takeover, a management buyout, a collaboration, a consolidation? You say merger, I say takeover. You say subset, I say subsidiary.
“A coming together; a greater cooperation; a consolidation, call it what you will. It has to happen and it’s going to – soon.”

I’ll buy the closer collaboration line, but takeover? I don’t think so.

You could argue there’s already close collaboration between the two tours, albeit with the PGA Tour the stronger partner. The European Tour has gone out of its way to work around the PGA Tour schedule to ensure its top stars play both circuits. For example, the BMW PGA Championship moved from its traditional May date to September so it didn’t clash with the PGA Championship’s move to May. Pelley moved the Irish Open to ensure Rory McIlroy’s participation.

Meanwhile, European Tour chief executive and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan have a far closer working relationship than former PGA Tour boss Tim Finchem had with Pelley. That’s not hard: Finchem and Pelley didn’t really like each other. Put it this way, they probably didn’t send Christmas cards to each other.

Pelley and Monahan have strengthened their relationship in response to the threat of the upstart Premier Golf League. Both realise it’s in their best interests to work together to see off that threat.

It’s true as GGP states the European Tour’s financial state is far more perilous then the PGA Tour’s. The U.S. circuit has extremely deep pockets. All you have to do is look at the PGA Tour’s pension fund to realise that. The European Tour doesn’t have a pension fund. It’s never had the resources to start one.

Pelley (pictured) has already told European Tour members things will be different post coronavirus: purses will be smaller and a lot of perks players were used to will not be available. Guess what? Most European Tour members are used to smaller purses and less perks. They came through that route on the way to the top.

The European circuit isn’t where it is today by not being nimble on its feet, even if it has sometimes led a hand-to-mouth existence. We all feared the financial crash of 2008 would spell doom for the circuit. The tour came through it relatively unscathed thanks to former CEO George O’Grady. Indeed, O’Grady has never really received adequate credit for the job he did.

True, coronavirus is a far bigger threat and a far harder opponent to overcome, but don’t think the European Tour will roll over with a whimper and end 45 years of hard work since the circuit came into existence in 1975. Forty-five years of success thanks to the late John Jacobs and the industrious Ken Schofield, thanks to Seve's charisma and marketability.

Eight-time European number one Colin Montgomerie sounds the clarion call for European Tour members when he tells GGP’s Lewine Mair the circuit he dominated will do all it can to retain its independence. Montgomerie says:

“I know it’s going to be difficult, of course it is. But after so many years of punching above its weight, why would it give up now if it doesn’t absolutely have to?
“From what I’m hearing, today’s players ‘get’ what Pelley is saying (regarding lower prize funds and few perks).”

Montgomerie alludes to Europe’s past and Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam. The European Tour became successful on the backs of these players, especially Seve, because they remained loyal. Seve hated the PGA Tour. His battles with former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman were legendary.

That pride Seve took in the European Tour, what he called “a great family”, still exists in players today. It’s the rallying call that has led to repeated Ryder Cup success.

The European Tour board of directors has some strong characters in Thomas Bjorn, Paul McGinley, Jamie Spence and others who won’t want to hoist a white flag to the PGA Tour.

There are some strong personalities, too, on the powerful 15-man tournament committee. Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, David Howell, Edoardo Molinari, Eddie Pepperell, Bernd Wiesberger to name a few. Does anyone really think they’ll be happy to see Ponte Vedra calling the shots?

You can bet the names above will be sounding a clarion call to the likes of Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia, etc. to fight to save the circuit where they learned their craft. It’s a clarion call they should respond to. Indeed, have a duty to respond to.

I’ll accept a new world order, but not a takeover. This won’t be like the LPGA taking over the hapless Ladies European Tour. Don’t expect a 45-year legacy to just disappear without an almighty fight.

Seve Ballesteros, at least, deserves that.

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