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  • Alistair Tait

Has Pelley Backed The Wrong Pony?

Updated: Mar 19, 2022

So now we know the details of the new Saudi Golf Super League thanks to The Daily Telegraph’s excellent golf reporter James Corrigan breaking the story: the LIV Golf Invitational Series with Greg Norman as chairman will feature eight tournaments worth $308 million.

The league’s incipient launch after all and sundry writing it off begs one very important question: has European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley and the DP World Tour backed the wrong pony?

Pelley quite rightly bragged last November about a new title sponsorship with Dubai-based DP World that meant he could announce a 2022 schedule worth “north of $200 million.” It sounded impressive at the time, but now sounds almost paltry compared to the staggering sums the Saudis are throwing around.

Sums Pelley had a chance to get his hands on.

That $25 million on offer at the Centurion Club just outside St Albans is $23 million pounds more than the corresponding Scandinavian Mixed hosted by Henrik and Annika on the DP World Tour. Do you think some scheduled to play in Sweden might just be having a rethink about where they’d prefer to play that week?

Pelley was offered a chance to partner with the Saudis in the Super League venture, but turned it down to form a “strategic alliance” with the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour deal was reportedly worth $70 million, with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan getting a place on the European Tour board. The strategic alliance benefits have been pretty underwhelming so far. PGA Tour players get to include the Rolex Series Scottish Open as one of their 15 PGA Tour events, and European Tour members get a chance to tee it up in bottom of the PGA Tour food chain events like the Barbasol and Barracuda Championships.

We await further announcements to the benefit of both tours. Meanwhile, along comes LIV Investments with its huge cheque book offering 48 players a chance to play in $25 million, no cut 54-hole tournaments with guaranteed money. Stars still in their prime aren’t going to take the bait, not when the PGA Tour and European Tour are threatening lifetime bans for any player who signs up to the new league (bans that might not be enforceable in court given the historic precedence of allowing players to play any tour any time for fat appearance fees).

We wait to see if established stars approaching their 50s will join the new league. Phil Mickelson’s next pronouncement on the new league should be interesting. Same for Lee Westwood who is on record as saying joining the new league for a reported $20-30 million fee was a “no brainer.”

The focus has been perhaps too much on the stars during the whole Golf Super League debate, one very much argued from a PGA Tour perspective. No one bothered to talk to the fringe players, especially international players outside the world top 50.

What if you’re an international player lying outside the top 50 with little prospect of playing in the majors and World Golf Championships, and unable to take advantage of decent PGA Tour purses on a regular basis, and someone comes along and offers you a chance to tee it up in eight $25 million tournaments?

Do I have to repeat the words “no brainer?”

Those words might apply to an established circuit being offered a huge influx of cash. Think of the rival tour Pelley could have put together if he’d taken the Saudi shilling instead of the PGA Tour dime.

There are those who’ll point out the obvious drawbacks of Pelley getting into bed with a repressive regime like the Saudis – quite right too. However, as I’ve said ad nauseum, golf and golfers have never given a hoot about human rights and dealing with repressive regimes. Pelley and the Tour were only too happy to take Saudi cash when the Saudi International was on its schedule for three years. Jamal who? And any casual scan of Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch reports says there are a few regimes the Tour, and other sports, shouldn’t be doing business with.

No, the Tour has always looked at the bottom line when it comes to putting a schedule together. Cash, not human rights, has always been king

No one knows how Norman’s league is going to go. It could be the biggest flop since Fosbury. But as I wrote previously, the Saudis aren’t going away despite many predicting the circuit was dead in the water. Not so. They’ve got so much money they can take all the time they want, so much money they can afford to fail. And the European Tour is under a far bigger threat from its existence than the PGA Tour.

I come back to my original question: did Pelley back the wrong pony when he jumped into bed with the PGA Tour? Only time will tell.

#JustSaying: “I’ll hustle anyone for a dollar – or a dime!” Lee Trevino

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