European Tour CEO, Keith Pelley has defended the absence of many of the brightest lights of European Tour, including Rory McIlroy, who chose not to contest the most-recent Turkish Airlines Open and the following week’s Nedbank Challenge.
Both events were very-lucrative Rolex Series tournaments with the Turkish Airlines Open boasting a then European Tour record first prize cheque of $2m and for that to be topped the following week at Sun City when Tommy Fleetwood collected a $2.5m first prize.
The Turkish Airlines Open produced a thrilling six-man play-off and with England’s Tyrrell Hatton emerging under floodlights to win while seven days later Fleetwood ended a 22-month winless drought.
However, to the average golf follower both events were noticeable with the absence of the likes of the World No. 2 ranked McIlroy, Jon Rahm and with Open Champion, Shane Lowry teeing-up in Turkey but electing not to compete at Sun City.
And while seven of the then top-10 on the Race to Dubai flew first class on Turkish Airlines to Belek just five of the top-10 boarded the charter flight to South Africa.
Pelley was asked if he thought the absence of the leading European-born stars of the Tour out in Turkey and South Africa would hurt in attracting potential new sponsors.
“The interesting way you have to look at the top players participation is … talk of player participation is very important to us. It is important to all of the tournaments,” he said.
“It’s not the only thing that defines a great tournament because when you look at what transpired at the Nedbank. You look at the set-up, the hospitality, the way it was promoted and everything about it, the finish that spectacular with the play-off and similar to the week before with a six-player play-off under the lights.
“It doesn’t define the golf tournament as the reality is that if we had the expectation of top players playing on a weekly basis then the expectations would be unrealistic.
“There is unbelievable optionality for the players right now and it is pretty significantly. There are probably less than 10 golf tournaments now that are mandatory. The top players are playing less .. they played 24.9 times in 2015 and they are now playing 22.3 times in that aspect.
“There is 35 tournaments over $7m, so we look at it and we don’t become obsessed with it. It is something that … and the only thing we can do, and you look at the Nedbank as an example … last year you had two players in the top-10 in the Race to Dubai and this year you had five. Hatton had a bad wrist, so you had six. This week we have 49 of the top-50 and that is based on the fact we changed the prize distribution. The fact there is so much choice with 35 golf tournaments out there, and you look at great golf tournaments from the three in Asia and then Turkey, Nedbank in South Africa.
“I think we really have to have that conversation which we are having right now and that is to have three-in-a-row because what you are getting with players …… and I had an interesting discussion with Victor Perez who is ninth in the Race to Dubai. Last year he was a Challenge Tour player but he got into the WGC HSBC Champions but he doesn’t want to play four in a row, so he made a decision not to play in Turkey or South Africa. So, going forward as the penultimate event, and have that in 2020 but in 2021 a better option would be to just end in two events.
“You have to start by saying if we define out Tour and the success of our Tour by top-layer participation only then we would be setting ourselves up for disappointment.”
Pelley was asked if he was then concerned in looking for new sponsors willing to put-up a $7.5m prize purse if the Tour in return could not guarantee their highest ranked players.
“I don’t look at it as much as you do from a ‘concerned’ perspective, I don’t,” he said.
“If we spend our entire time on top-player participation and if that was the only metric that our sponsors and partners look towards, then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and I strongly believe that.
“Rory is here this week and Justin is here and we have 49 of the top-50 along with Jon Rahm here and we celebrate when they play but the multiple choice that they have, and there is no a simple solution but they have multiple choices where to play and that is being realistic. As I said, there is 35 tournaments over $7m and they are only playing 22 events. You’ve got three Majors in the US and you’ve got two WGCs, one in Mexico obviously so proximity is key. But when you break it down and think about they are only playing 22 times and maybe you guys could look at it as to how many golf tournaments that are critical. So, if you spend all your time lobbying it is not going to be very enjoyable.
“In my opinion you have to take care of the players the best you possibly can in terms of the amenities you can possibly do, playing on the best golf courses that you possibly can. The greens here are ‘9’ this week but there are other parts of the golf course of the standard that it needs to be. We have to play on ‘the’ best golf course and ‘the’ best experience for them and put together … somebody said yesterday there is three million reasons why 49 of the top-50 players are playing here this week.