Remember when LIV Golf had no players, no tournaments, no courses, and seemingly no hope – that didn’t age well, did it? Now, as I hinted at in a recent post, it’s on the verge of acquiring one of Europe’s most historic venues.
Is Valderrama and the Estrella Damm N.M. Andalucía Masters the first in those European Tour dominoes to fall in the seemingly losing battle the European Tour is waging with LIV Golf? It appears so.
I wonder what the “strategic alliance” reaction will be to losing a venue that’s been a mainstay on the European Tour since 1988, the only Spanish course to stage the Ryder Cup? It’s a big loss for the European Tour. After all, it’s not as if sponsors are tripping over themselves to invest money in the European circuit. Why would they when it’s haemorrhaging talent.
Remind me again why it’s a good idea to hand PGA Tour cards next year to 10 up and coming players.
As I also noted in my “If One Domino Falls? blog, surely there’s a danger other courses, sponsors, tournament organisers will look at Valderrama’s decision and wonder if they should follow suit, jump on the LIV bandwagon before they miss the boat.
And why wouldn’t Valderrama join LIV Golf? The last and maybe final edition of the Andalucía Masters carried an Official World Golf Ranking strength of field rating of 117.35 points. Not the lowest on the European Tour food chain, but nothing to shout home about. Despite the presence of defending champion and U.S. Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick, the world number 10, and world number 23 Ryan Fox, organisers surely looked at a field devoid of top players and thought, bugger this for a game of soldiers? Next year let’s make sure we get star power.
“Hello, can I please speak with Senor Norman?”
Of course, the ultimate irony lay in Adrian Otaegui winning the tournament. A slap in the European Tour’s face since he’s a LIV Golf member. Otaegui went from Valderrama to Miami to compete in the LIV Golf Team Championship at Trump National Doral, the final event of the LIV Golf season.
He'll no doubt be back at Valderrama next year should the Spanish course fulfil news that’s been on the grapevine for weeks and join up with LIV Golf. Instead of a field with just one major winner, next year Valderrama will get multiple major winners. Including Spanish hero Sergio Garcia, and rising home star Eugenio Chacarra, winner of the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok in just his 5th professional tournament.
Garcia may not be everyone’s cup of tea – he’s certainly not mine – but he’s a star in his homeland, a Spanish legend that might just be banned from playing European Tour events in Spain should the European Tour win the ludicrous case it’s brought against Garcia and other LIV players. A judge will decide next February if the European Tour can ban Garcia et al from playing their home tour and participating in the Ryder Cup.
Who advised the Tour to take that action? Garcia not playing European Tour events in Spain? Really? As I’ve noted on more than one occasion, imagine the European Tour telling a sponsor like Estrella Damm that Garcia can’t compete in an event in his homeland, a tournament he’s won three times – at Valderrama. Or telling BMW Martin Kaymer can't compete in the BMW International Open in Munich. Or how about saying to Johan Rupert he can't have Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Charles Scwhartzel and other South African LIV players compete in his Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, a perennial European Tour event. I wonder how those conversations are going?
No doubt I’ll – yet again – be accused of being on the LIV payroll for penning this blog. I’m not. I’ve never been to Saudi Arabia, and wish the House of Saud had never got involved in this royal and ancient game. Ditto for other countries with appalling human rights records staging golf tournaments.
But not everyone cares about such issues. The European Tour didn’t when it gladly took Saudi money to include the Saudi International on its schedule for three years. I doubt PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan advised his top stars not to play in the kingdom before he granted them releases to play the Saudi International when it was a European Tour event.
More to the point, as Padraig Harrington intimated earlier this year, many golf fans don’t care where prize money comes from: they just want to see the best players in action.
Whatever side you take on this issue, the fact is the Saudis are here to stay. So far the real loser in this power struggle is the European Tour, not the PGA Tour. Keith Pelley and the circuit he manages don’t have the same deep pockets Monahan has to keep many of his main stars loyal. He can't afford to upset long-time sponsors by telling them they can't have certain players in their fields.
So, unless Pelley and the Tour can come up with some last-minute miracle deal to hold on to a layout many think is the best in Continental Europe, Valderrama is saying adios to the European Tour after a 34-year friendship.
I wonder how rank and file tour members will feel about Valderrama's defection. I wonder which domino will be next to fall.
#JustSaying: “People say I should cut down trees to make the course more playable, but it's not in my nature to do that." Valderrama founder Jimmy Patino