Outgoing European Tour Group CEO Keith Pelley admitted he was forced to rush the announcement that he was stepping down from his role due to the news leaking in Canada.
Pelley celebrated his 60th birthday Thursday in bizarre manner, first learning while competing on course in this week’s inaugural pro/amateur Dubai Invitational, that news of him quitting as head of the European Tour Group and taking up a role at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) had been unceremoniously leaked.
Pelley is returning to his home city of Toronto to take-up a similar role with the top Canadian sports organisation giant.
It put the Tour, where he’s been the head since May 2015, in somewhat damage control mode and Tour staff drafted a personal letter from Pelley to all the members of both European Tours, that was then emailed to members before the Tour confirmed Pelley’s resignation in a press statement early evening Irish time on Thursday.
In an eight-paragraph letter to the members (see hereunder), Pelley indicated it was his intention to formally advise members next Tuesday ahead of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, and stating that news of his April 1st resignation and move to new employer Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, based in his home city of Toronto, being leaked had forced his hand.
Players have been reacting to Pelley’s shock announcement, including Rory McIlroy speaking to reporters in Dubai where he is competing at the inaugural Dubai Invitational.
“The journey the European Tour has been on for the last five or six years has been navigated really well by Keith,” said McIlroy.
“He’s played it really well. He was always able to see the bigger picture. Keith is a smart guy. People listen to him. Not everyone in golf is capable of that. He’s been great in that sense.
“We’ll be able to judge just how good he has been in maybe 18 months time, when we know how everything has fallen into place.”
Major winner and former world number one Justin Rose admitted that it came as something of a surprise, even if he fully understands why Pelley made the decision.
“I didn’t see it coming,” said Rose speaking with USA Today. “He’s Canadian and it gives him a chance to go home.
“Listen, you never know when these type of jobs come around but tough timing as well. There’s a lot to unpack and figure out at the moment. It would be nice if there was clarity before he’s leaving.
“Keith has always been a disruptor of the game in a good way. He’s always looked for angles, for ways to grow the game, he’s always thought a little bit differently than guys who have been in his position prior. I’ve always enjoyed his outlook and the way he swung for the fences, so-to speak.
“Crystal ball would have been great because there have been some opportunities the way golf has gone where the European Tour could have positioned itself in a different way and possibly strengthened the tour in the shorter term. I don’t know how this new arrangement with (private equity), for example, if it goes through, pertains to the European Tour. So maybe it still will be a good move for the European Tour.”
Nevertheless, Rose feels that the DP World Tour will be in good hands with Guy Kinnings taking over from Pelley in April.
“Guy’s a lovely guy to be around. He plays the agent card really well, he knows what he is. He’s comfortable wearing a little pink.
“He looks like he has been poised for a big job either with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour. Ever since the alliance I always figured he was in line for a top job with one of the tours so this doesn’t surprise me.”
Matt Fitzpatrick wasn’t quite as complimentary as fellow major winners and Ryder Cup team members McIlroy and Rose.
“Very good for Keith,” Fitzpatrick told USA Today, before going on to add that Pelley’s legacy would “probably [be] giving away the 10 best players for Europe to the PGA Tour.”
“It’s his choice”, said Scot Robert MacIntyre. “I’m a golfer, I don’t get into the details of the running of golf tours. I’m a member, I play golf for a living. These guys are far more intelligent than I am to run tours. I got along with him great and will always have his number to pick up the phone.
“He got me to the PGA Tour, didn’t he? I think the way the world of golf is going it’s going to be a world tour. He’s given me a pathway to achieve dreams I’ve always wanted to achieve. Good luck to him.”
Alex Noren hailed Pelley as a forward-thinking visionary whose introduction of the Rolex Series events was a major step in the right direction for the European Tour.
“It’s a very different climate in the world of golf than when he started,” said Noren to USA Today.
“I don’t know what the best future for all the tours is going to be. I’m happy that we have a lot of good tournaments in Europe. I just wish we could combine the tours a little bit more and get FedEx Cup points for a few more DP World Tour events so it would make sense for more guys on the PGA Tour to play both tours. I think it would benefit both tours.
“Keith was very forward-thinking and he tried to compete with the U.S. tour. Bringing those Rolex events was huge. I just think moving forward we could combine them more and as a European I’d love that.”