Golf

New PGA Tour, European schedule will please both sides, but probably not Saudi’s Crown Prince


As relationship roadmaps go, the joint schedule announced Tuesday by the PGA and European tours equates to friendly fumbling on first base. It did however tick some boxes essential to any courtship: there was the vow of greater strength in unity, the meticulous language used in whispering sweet nothings and—by no means least—the deliberate omission of past differences and rival suitors.

That last point is consequential. Every statement by the tours or their leaders, Jay Monahan and Keith Pelley, was in lockstep, positioning their alliance as bettering the professional game globally, increasing playing opportunities for members, boosting purses and delivering a more robust product to consumers. The intent was to gratify one constituency—their members—and leave two others disappointed: the Saudis, who have been pushing a Super Golf League splinter circuit, and corporate attorneys, who have been drooling at the potential for billable hours parsing anti-trust law.

Both may now have to work a little harder. Monahan and Pelley were careful to ensure their deal wasn’t presented as an effort to box embryonic competitors out of the sport, only mentioning the rival concepts repeatedly littering agent inboxes when pressed. Placing the “strategic alliance” in such a context would have increased the PGA and European tours’ exposure to anti-trust litigation, which may be inevitable as the Saudis explore their dwindling options.

Much of the reaction to the 2021-2022 schedule has been trained on the Scottish Open, which will be co-sanctioned by both tours and awarded FedEx Cup points. The field for the event, which falls the week before the Open Championship, will be comprised equally of European and PGA Tour members, which generously assumes American players are keen for an extra week of warm beer and weak showers. Its new sponsor, Genesis, is also now attached to events on both tours, a commercial model we should expect to see more of.

Danny Willett tees off on the 6th hole during Day One of the abrdn Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club on July 08, 2021 in North Berwick, Scotland. (Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images)

The other most noteworthy signs of the alliance—50 spots for European journeymen in the Barbasol and Barracuda tournaments in the U.S. and the near-doubling of prize money at the Irish Open—are sops. Sure, adding Europeans elevates two opposite-field events that have struggled to attract quality players, but it also delivers a promised pathway to the PGA Tour for Old World journeymen willing to chase their dreams to Nicholasville, Kentucky and Truckee, California.

The Irish Open getting a massive prize fund boost (to $6 million) but no co-sanctioned status suggests the intent is not to draw PGA Tour players to the tournament, which is traditionally held a week before the Scottish Open and two weeks before the Open Championship. The odds are slender that many guys will want to play three weeks of links golf (one with no FedEx Cup points at stake) then dash home (in non-Olympic years) for the playoffs. The Irish cash injection is a signal to the European Tour’s membership of the riches this new alliance can bring—no trifling matter since those members must vote on any major proposals affecting the structure of their tour going forward.

European players needed to be convinced the strategic alliance was not a PGA Tour takeover. This is what persuasion looks like.

The U.S. side of the ledger is no less flush for all that. PGA Tour prize money next season will increase by $35 million, with another $15 million added to the FedEx Cup / Comcast Business Top 10 bonus pool. That won’t assuage some star players who believe they aren’t compensated enough, but would be if they were paid in Saudi riyal. Their pleasure will be found on second base in this relationship.

The winnowing of the World Golf Championships (from four to two) seems counterintuitive to the goal of mollifying stars who want guaranteed money that isn’t shared with also-rans, which is exactly what emissaries of the Crown Prince promise. But one source at the PGA Tour told me there will be a slate of lucrative, limited-field events for the sport’s biggest names, perhaps as early as the 2022-23 season.

There will also be opportunities to fill their wheelbarrows overseas, even as the PGA Tour denies waivers to play the Saudi International, which has been bone-sawed off the European Tour schedule. The Tour’s oft-maligned Fall season—populated with tournaments invariably lacking stars, energy and the attention of fans in NFL season—is likely to see more cross-pollination of the schedule. A series of co-sanctioned events in that window could boost the European Tour’s Race to Dubai after the FedEx Cup is settled.

The future landscape of professional golf will only become clear as subsequent bases are rounded in this bromance between Monahan and Pelley. Hopefully, the end result is something resembling the ATP Tour in tennis, with multiple tournaments at varying tiers conducted around the world each week under one umbrella. In short, a system in which a golfer may play his way to status on the big show without the hurdles of geography and protectionist policies.

The alliance between the PGA Tour and European Tour will doubtless be seen by many as a marriage of convenience, perhaps even a union pledged at the business end of a shotgun. There’s merit to that misgiving. Lost in that though will be a greater truth, which is that a unified global tour is the direction in which golf should to be advancing anyway.





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