In an annual ‘State of the Tour’ address Sunday morning, European Tour CEO Keith Pelley defended the absence of Rory McIlroy from the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai and spoke about Rolex Series developments while dismissing world tour as not a priority.
McIlroy caused a stir this week as he is currently residing in Dubai and was even spotted last Thursday playing a social round at the nearby Emirates Club that hosts the Dubai Desert Classic.
McIlroy has not played a tournament round since ending well down the field six weeks ago the Alfred Dunhill Links in Scotland and will not compete again until next month as he strives to recover fully from a rib injury.
Pelley was asked about McIlroy’s absence that eventually saw him finish 13th on the Race to Dubai and having contested just 12 Tour counting events in the year.
“Rory and I had the dialogue — we’ve had the dialogue about him needing the rest, about taking the rest of the season off,” said Pelley.
“Playing a match with your mates is completely different than playing in a competitive golf tournament. I’ve had this conversation over and over again with my executive and members of our Tournament Committee.
“Playing in a golf tournament, getting up, practising, playing four days after you haven’t played, you have to definitely be ready.
“I’m totally comfortable with Rory’s decision that he made some time ago.
“The most important thing for the European Tour and global golf is to have our superstars healthy and playing at the best they possibly can be. So, take time to get healthy.
“I totally respect Rory’s decision.”
Pelley also believes a world tour in golf remains “just a concept” and is not a high priority.
McIlroy caused controversy in September when he said a world tour “has to happen” and that the “easy thing” would be for the PGA Tour to buy the European Tour.
McIlroy later clarified that he thought such a move remained a long way off and Pelley agreed with that assessment during a press conference on the final day of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“There’s been a lot of conversation about a world tour,” Pelley said.
“I’ve been in the role two years here. Jay Monahan (PGA Tour commissioner) has been in the role one year.
“I don’t know if it is a high priority for him. It hasn’t been a high priority for me at this point.
“Does it make sense to look at it at some point down the road? Perhaps. If, in fact, it is something that all our players want us to investigate, we would have a fiduciary responsibility to look at it.
“Would we have conversations with all the other tours? Absolutely, if it is the best way to grow the game of golf globally and it works for us as a members’ organisation.
“Right now it is not our No 1 priority. We’ve just launched the Rolex Series, which I believe is a game changer for us.
“We have a lot of different things on the agenda now. We’re heading into a Ryder Cup year.
“So the concept of a world tour I understand, but right now it is just a concept. Could it come to fruition down the road? Perhaps. But that would be speculation.”
Pelley hopes to see the number of Rolex Series events – tournaments with a prize fund of at least $7m – increase from eight to 10, with the British Masters potentially joining the ranks.
“Ten would be the ultimate, but I’d rather have eight great events than 10 events just for the sake of having 10,” Pelley added.
“I’m comfortable the number will increase in 2019, but not without us looking at it forensically. We want to have a top-player field.
“It needs to be a top event on a championship golf course. It needs to be supported by fans. It is something that we’re really building.”
Pelley also revealed that the European Tour remains happy to assist the struggling Ladies European Tour after an initial approach, in partnership with the LPGA and R&A, was rejected.
“We really want the LET to flourish,” Pelley said.
“They have decided at this particular time to try to rebuild the LET on their own, but we have said to them we are here whenever you need us.”
As for judging Pelley himself, two years ago in the same forum he announced an ambitious goal: making the European Tour “a viable alternative” to the PGA Tour. So how is he doing on that front after a successful roll out of the Rolex Series this year ?
“The Rolex Series was a monumental step in making that a viable alternative,” Pelley said. “But the reality is that there are 150 72-hole golf tournaments around the world each year when you look at all the different tours. So the choices the players have are enormous. And what we have done with the creation of the Rolex Series is provide a wonderful option for the top players. And they have embraced it.
“Look at the fields at, for example, the HNA Open de France, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. In those three weeks, if a top-20 player played competitive golf, he played on our tour. And that’s something we’re incredibly proud of.”
The fact remains that even the Rolex riches are sometimes not always enough to attract the very best to play this side of the pond. Masters champion Sergio Garcia skipped the DDF Irish Open earlier in the season and then opted out of the Turkish Airlines Open and the Nedbank Challenge in the two weeks leading up to DP World Championship. Not to mention the climax to the season took place without Rory McIlroy.
For Pelley it seems an old Fianna Faill slogan fits his reign so far: A lot done, more to do !