McGinley relishing a return to competitive action

Mark McGowan

Paul McGinley (Image: Legends Tour)

Mark McGowan

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Paul McGinley might be better known these days as the 2014 Ryder Cup winning captain and one of the leading golf analysts for Sky Sports and NBC’s Golf Channel, but before any of that he was one of the grittiest competitors on the European Tour and a three-time Ryder Cup playing participant who holds the rare distinction of never being on the losing side either as player or captain.

But given his busy schedule and recent health concerns for both of his parents, it’s easy to see how actually playing golf has been forced to take a back seat, but that’s a wrong he intends to put right and his new ambassadorial role with the Legends Tour will see him back on the course with a scorecard in his pocket in much greater frequency in 2024.

“I do a lot of things in my life now from a business point of view, but the thing I still like to do more than anything is play golf,” McGinley said. “Even though I am in my mid-fifties now, I still love to play and any opportunity I get, I try to take.

“Last year was a very tough year for my family and I did not play at all, so I am looking forward to getting back on the horse again this year and playing in the years to come. I still love to play, I love to compete, I love the grind of playing professional golf and it’s not just the tournament play and being in competitive situations, it’s the grind away from it – the practice and working towards a goal and sharpening yourself to get ready, so I am looking forward to playing again this year.

“Because I have played so little, I think I have only averaged five or six tournaments a year since I turned 50. It is very hard to get a head of steam up when you are playing against guys who are playing every one of those events in the schedule.

“You cut your teeth as a competitor by playing more and more, I am not having that opportunity as I am kept busy doing other things like TV and corporate. It is hard to prepare myself the way that I could when I was solely a golfer, so that is the challenge that I have.

“Having said that, the Legends Tour event that was on at Rosapenna two years ago, I should have won that – the one that Phillip Price won. If I were playing more, if I were tournament sharp, I would have won that one. So, I haven’t won yet as a 50-something and that is one of my goals moving forwards.”

Originally founded in 1992 as the European Seniors Tour, it was relaunched in 2020 as the Legends Tour after Staysure founder Ryan Howsam, whose company had previously been the title sponsor in 2018 and 2019, took majority ownership. The Legends Tour debuted in 2021 with 14 events which increased to 16 in 2022 and 2023. But continued growth means that 2024 will now consist of 20 events with new tournaments set to debut in Barbados, Kenya, Mexico, Spain, the UK and Zambia alongside Legends Tour stalwarts such as the OFX Irish Legends which is being held at Seapoint Golf Links in June, and the MCB Tour Championship in Mauritius in December.

Additionally, €18 million in total prizemoney will be awarded across the 20 events, with the three senior major championships – The KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, the US Senior Open and the Senior Open Championship – accounting for more than €10 million of this. And McGinley feels that it’s only right that the Legends Tour players are seeing some of the huge cash influx that’s been pumped into professional golf.

“I’ve a real sense of justice,” McGinley explains when asked about the growth of the Legends Tour. “The DP World Tour is now playing for record prize funds, and it’s guaranteed and underpinned by the PGA Tour for the next 12 years. It’s in a great place financially. We’ve had a huge cash injection from the PGA Tour, the coffers are very strong, the balance sheet is very strong on the DP World Tour and there’s a duty of care – and when I was on the board, I was pushing this very strongly – there’s a duty of care to the Challenge Tour and the Legends Tour.

“The guys on the Legends Tour – there is no pension fund in Europe, there’s never been one set up, whereas the Americans [those who played on the PGA Tour] who turn 50 all have pretty lucrative pension funds, so that’s even more reason that guys who’ve gone through the European Tour and had loyalty to the European Tour are being rewarded with decent prize funds that they can play for when they turn 50.

“I really feel that that’s important. There are three strings to the bow of the job of the chief executive that was Keith Pelley and is now Guy Kinnings, which is three tours. I always kept pushing that agenda. It’s the same with the Challenge Tour. The Challenge Tour is not meant to have big prize funds because it’s a place that you’re trying to move off and onto the DP World Tour, but there should still be sufficient funds so that the guys can at least be able to cover their costs.”

McGinley’s opinions aren’t tainted by self interest either. Due to his high international profile thanks largely to his Ryder Cup captaincy, he’s in a position where a pension scheme similar to that on the PGA Tour wouldn’t make that much difference. Instead, he’s advocating for former and current colleagues who haven’t had the same post-playing opportunities that he’s been given.

“There should be a contribution every year that should be increasing for these guys,” he explained, “that’s on top of what Ryan Howsam is doing and trying to work commercially. That combined should be a pretty decent tour for the guys to play on. I don’t play very much so I’m pushing an agenda that doesn’t really affect me, but it does affect a lot of guys because they don’t do the corporate work that I’m able to do and don’t do the TV work that I’m able to do. I can’t be accused of pushing an agenda that suits me. This is an agenda that is the right thing to do.

“Besides, I’m 57 now so I’m probably past the best years of my seniors career. But it’s the right thing to do and it’s important that Guy Kinnings continues that and increases support to the Legends Tour on top of what Ryan is doing.”

“Yeah, absolutely it is. It’s all intertwined. The DP World Tour is evolving – it’s a different tour than it was. Anybody who tries to compare it to the European Tour of 20 years ago is wrong. The players all want to migrate to America as the last TV deal exploded in America and prize funds doubled and tripled. Remember, back in the days when Seve [Ballesteros], [Nick] Faldo, Woosie [Ian Woosnam] and all these guys played on the European Tour, there wasn’t a huge disparity in prize funds between Europe and America and that’s why a lot of those guys stayed.

“But then the disparity became so big between the tours, that even though we were doing well, the PGA Tour exploded so of course the players were going to migrate. So, any critics of the European Tour should consider that the Tour has had to evolve with that dynamic. That dynamic evolved from almost parity to the PGA Tour going sky high and the players went where the money was. So now the European Tour say: ‘Ok, what are we going to do from here?’ Well, we just have to evolve. We still have to have some really good events, we’ve got to get the scheduling right so that the guys are available to come back and play, hence the importance of September, October and even November now on the DP World Tour as it’s very much become a two-tier tour.”

The Legends Tour, unlike the PGA Champions Tour – its equivalent in the United States – operates on a Pro-Am basis, where each Legends Tour player participates as an individual in the overall Legends Tour tournament and along with an amateur partner in a separate Pro-Am category.

And while the format may not have unanimous approval among the Legends Tour players, McGinley himself is in favour and believes that it is essential to bring in additional revenue.

“I like it personally, but I know not everybody does,” he said. “You know, in an ideal world, you want to be playing three rounds like the Champions Tour does in America and guys just play normally without having to play Pro-Ams, but again, commercial reasons tell us that we can’t do that. We have to make money. And you’re not going to get it from sponsoring alone, you’re going to get it from guys paying a substantial amount to be part of the tournament themselves and playing in the same format they play in the Dunhill [Alfred Dunhill Links Championship] or AT&T [Pebble Beach Pro-Am] format. That’s just the reality of it.”

Following the arrival of LIV Golf which threatened and continues to threaten the survival and commercial viability of both the PGA and DP World Tours, a Strategic Alliance was formed between the two, with the PGA Tour offering 10 cards to the leading players not already exempt in the Race to Dubai rankings and in turn, guaranteeing DP World Tour purses for the next 13 years.

And though we’ve already started to see this Strategic Alliance bear fruit with the likes of Matthieu Pavon – one of the 10 Race to Dubai PGA Tour card winners – going on to become a PGA Tour winner in his first few months, following in a similar path with the senior equivalents has yet to materialise.

“Yeah, I’d like to see that,” McGinley said. “It hasn’t started yet, but it needs to start. The problem is, they’re so consumed with the two main tours. There are very few spots available for Legends Tour players at the US Senior Open, for example. I think 20 players from the Legends Tour get into the Senior PGA Championship – a major. That’s about the right number, but when it comes to the US Senior Open, there’s only two or three and that’s wrong.

“This is going back to what it was thirty years ago when, on the main tour, you couldn’t get into the US Open. And now we have it again on the Seniors Tour and it’s wrong. There should be another 10 or 15 players from the Legends Tour exempt into all the major championships in Senior golf and that’s not the case at the moment. They need to rectify that because three of the majors are a closed shop for Champions Tour players and that’s wrong.”

One criticism levelled at the Legends Tour is that it, itself, is akin to a closed shop with just five cards available each year at Legends Tour Q-School. But McGinley doesn’t think this criticism is warranted due to the fact that there are limited playing opportunities and many players who deserve their place on the Legends Tour due to the commitment that they’ve shown to the European Tour throughout their careers.

“That’s a tricky one,” he responded when the question was put to him. “I don’t think it does, personally, because the Legends Tour is a small tour. Commercially, it can only look after a limited number of players and the priority has to be guys who were loyal to the Tour for 30 years. So, if you’re a guy like Ricardo Gonzales, Raphael Jacquelin, or David Lynn, players who have pledged 30 years of loyalty, they absolutely have to be looked after on top of the players who’ve already been there and played a few years – guys like Peter Baker – and as it’s only 80 players, that only leaves a small number of opportunities for guys coming through.

“So, if you happen to be a club pro or a guy who turns professional at 50, you have to be really good to earn your stripes to join the guys that need to be looked after. And because there’s no pension fund, this is the way to look after these guys. So, as much as it looks like a closed shop from the outside, that’s unfair, the duty of care from the board is to these guys who have served the European Tour for a number of years, not the guy who’s just turned 50 and not the guy who’s been a PGA pro all the while.”

Unfortunately, McGinley will not be able to play on home soil in the OFX Irish Legends at Seapoint due to a prior, long-standing commitment, but that’s another thing he intends to put right in the future.

“It’s a real shame,” he said. “I loved hosting this event when it was up at Rosapenna in Donegal. I know it was hugely successful last year and it is such a shame that I cannot do this year. This is a date that was in the diary for two-and-a-half years. It is not just for me where I am making a lot of money – it is for my foundation where I am hosting a group from America who support the foundation very strongly. Unfortunately, it was a clash, but next year I hope to be back and playing.

“When you put the name Irish in front of a golf tournament it is always going to be successful, Irish Opens have always been successful, Irish Legends have been hugely successful – then you throw in links golf on top of that and it is something special.

“I am sure it will be a great success; they had a great winner last year in Peter Baker who went on to have a phenomenal year, maybe the best year anybody has ever had in senior golf from a European point of view. I am sure this will be no different this year with another strong field.”

The OFX Irish Legends takes place at Seapoint Golf Links from the 19th – 22nd of June and tickets are available HERE

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