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  • Alistair Tait

Thomas Bjorn can help European Tour through adversity

Thomas Bjorn’s appointment to the European Tour Board comes at exactly the right time. The world’s second circuit faces an uncertain future as a result of the coronavirus. Bjorn is just the sort of personality to help steer the Euro circuit through the choppy waters of the coming months.

The Dane’s appointment comes as no surprise. The 49 year old has been involved in every major decision the tour has taken since he became chairman of the powerful tournament committee in 2007. Even though he gave up that position in 2016 to concentrate on steering Europe to victory in the 2018 Ryder Cup, he still sat on the committee and continued to be a powerful voice on European Tour matters.

Only last year, Bjorn was influential in helping the tour form a new slow play policy to help speed up those players impersonating snails. There’s a big difference between slow play and coronavirus. The former is debilitating, the latter could be ruinous.

The European Tour does not have the same deep pockets as the PGA Tour. Chief executive Keith Pelley has warned players to expect lower purses going forward as a result of the coronavirus bringing the tour to a grinding halt. He’s warned of staff redundancies, too.

The circuit isn’t in a desperate situation at the moment, but there are worrying signs. Unlike the PGA Tour which is talking about a June restart – wishful thinking, in my opinion – all events on the European Tour schedule through to the Open Championship have either been cancelled or postponed. The next scheduled event is the Betfred British Masters, due to take place from July 30-August 2nd.

The European circuit relies heavily on Ryder Cup revenue to keep it afloat. It operates on a four-year accounting schedule. The circuit tends to lose money in non-Ryder Cup years and make money in years the match is played, especially when Europe hosts the event. The fact the last match took place in France means European Tour coffers should be reasonably full. That stash of cash won’t last long.

Pelley has been a breath of fresh air since arriving from Canada. He hasn’t been afraid to invest tour money into innovative tournaments like the GolfSixes, the Shot Clock Masters, etc. Previously, the tour has invested in certain events to help inflate prize funds, especially for Rolex tournaments to bring them up to the $7 million minimum requirement. Those types investment are in danger going forward.

Apart from the Ryder Cup, the tour also relies heavily on tv money as well as Rolex sponsorship. I’d be interested to find out what deals the tour has with Sky Sports and Rolex. If money has been paid up front and no tournaments are taking place, do such revenues have to be paid back in the form of rebates?

Finally, the circuit counts on national governments/tourist boards to back tournaments. You don’t have to be a Mensa student to realise those governments might have far more important matters to spend cash on in the immediate future than golf tournaments.

Bjorn’s addition to the board should be a big help. He brings a certain stamp of authority and gravitas that will be most welcome. Moreover, he’s another shrewd mind to go along with other shrewd minds like former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and the erudite David Jones, to name but two.

Strange to think that a man once known as “Semtex” because of his explosive nature is now part of the European Tour establishment. However, the die-Liverpool fan has always taken a keen interest in tour matters, even during his explosive years. He said:

“I’ve always had a big heart. I’ve always had a strong interest in the tour. I’ve always wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes and help in any way I could.”

Those who’ve worked with Bjorn attest to that.

“He’s hugely respected,” said former player Richard Finch, who served with Bjorn on the tournament committee. “He has the tour’s best interests at heart. Even if an issue were, say, detrimental towards him but in the tour’s best interest, he’d do what was best for the tour.”

Jamie Spence, who chaired the tournament committee before Bjorn, said:

“He’s a very strong individual. He’s a perfectionist, but he’s also got that strength of character that allows him to deal with the adversity in his own life and make sure the wellbeing of the tour is catered for.”

The European Tour needs catering for now. Bjorn’s appointment to the board couldn’t be timelier.

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