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  • Alistair Tait

Strategic Alliance Joy Needed Now

If ever there was a time for the “strategic alliance” between the European Tour and PGA Tour to kick into high gear, now is the time.

The European Tour’s future could depend on it. That much is obvious from next week’s field for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational London tournament at the Centurion Club.

So far the much heralded tie up between the world’s top tours has been under whelming: PGA Tour players get to play in the Scottish Open and count it as one of their 15 PGA Tour events, while Europeans get a chance to play in bottom of the food chain PGA Tour events like the Barbasol and Barracuda tournaments.

You don’t need to be a member of MENSA to figure out PGA Tour members are currently getting the better deal.

All the headlines on next week’s LIV field are on the star names: Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Kevin Na, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood headline the bill. Not a bad cast for the first event of the new circuit, no matter what Rory McIlroy says.

“I certainly don’t think the field is anything to jump up and down about,” McIlroy said in his preview interview for the Memorial Tournament. “Look at the field this week. Look at the field next week in Canada. They are proper golf tournaments.”

Maybe so in relation to the Memorial and Canadian Open, but next week’s field for the LIV tournament near St Albans has more marquee names than the corresponding European Tour event, the Scandinavian Mixed. Most European golf fans will probably opt for watching Johnson, Garcia, Poulter et al than Henrik Stenson, Annika Sorenstam and Alex Noren.

And as for McIlroy’s insinuation the inaugural LIV even isn’t a “proper golf tournament,” this is the same Rory McIlroy who once called the Ryder Cup an “exhibition.” He was wrong on that one. Will he be wrong on this one too?

The 48 competing at Centurion will no doubt feel a pot of $25 million with a $4 million first place prize and a guaranteed $120,000 for last is a proper tournament worth taking seriously. (The Scandinavian Mixed is worth $2 million with $340,000 going to the winner.) Rank and file European Tour members not at Centurion will be taking the LIV event seriously too.

Forget the marquee names at Centurion, most of those are in the twilights of their careers and cashing in on the lucrative wads of cash they’ve pocketed just to sign up to the new circuit – the prize money is just a nice wee added bonus. The worrying sign for European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley and his team is the involvement of players like Oliver Fisher (above), Laurie Canter, Sam Horsfield, Pablo Larrazabal, Bernd Wiesberger and others. Their European Tour peers will be watching how they and others not considered “stars” perform. Actually, not how they play, but how much money they pocket.

McDowell admitted playing in the Saudi-backed event was...

“…an exceedingly difficult decision. It is a difficult decision as a player when there’s so many unknowns. We do not know what the reaction is going to be. It just boils down to the fact that I am a business and I have operated all over the world for 20 years. This is a compelling opportunity.”

“Compelling” is a euphemism for cash. There’s the rub: money, more money than players like Fisher, Horsfield and the supporting cast ever dreamt of.

Horsfield is a potential star with three European Tour wins. He’s made just under €3 million in five European seasons. He can exceed that sum in just three days if he wins at Centurion.

Fisher, a close friend of McIlroy’s and once expected to challenge the Northern Irishman for major honours, is a one-time winner in 16 years with €4.8 million in earnings. Just think, he can almost double that with a victory net week.

Pelley has been a breath of fresh air since taking over the reins as European Tour boss. He’s gone outside the mould to try different formats such as Golf Sixes, Shot Clock Masters, Belgian Knockout, etc. They didn’t work because of the lack of star names and that all important factor: money. Moreover, he and his team did a fantastic job of putting on tournaments during the pandemic. However, he has his work cut out now, and I’m not sure how he battles a rival circuit with vastly more money.

He turned down Saudi cash and tied the Tour’s fortunes to the PGA Tour through the strategic alliance. The PGA Tour will survive the Saudi onslaught. How the European Tour fares is open to question. Pelley’s members need to see the benefits of that strategic alliance now or Pelley risks a talent drain to the new circuit.

#JustSaying: “How did you come to this dirty business? The usual: money.” Dialogue from the movie The Professionals

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