The 2022 PGA Tour reached a dramatic climax last weekend with Rory McIlroy overhauling Scottie Scheffler at the Tour Championship to become the first player to claim the season-decider for a third time. In Boston this afternoon, LIV Golf will begin the fourth event of its inaugural Saudi-financed ‘rebel’ series. Next Thursday at Wentworth will see the start of the BMW PGA Championship, the flagship event of the DP World (formerly European) Tour. Yes, there’s a lot going on in golf right now, albeit much of it behind the scenes and most of that making for uncomfortable conversations. Which we will get to.
On Tuesday it was announced that European qualification for the 2023 Ryder Cup match at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome, which will conclude on October 1, will begin next week. The qualifying period will end on September 3. The 12 players will make the team by being one of the three leading players on the European Points List; one of the three leading players on the World Points List; or one of the six captain’s picks at the discretion of Luke Donald – who got the gig when Henrik Stenson upped sticks and left for LIV Golf in July.
Wholly understandably, and rightly, Tuesday’s announcement included no mention of LIV Golf, although on his appointment at the beginning of last month Donald had said: “There’s a legal situation going on. I don’t think that situation’s going to get resolved any time soon. So until it does, I can’t really comment on it.” Sergio Garcia, Europe’s all-time Ryder Cup points scorer, is one of the LIV golfers who is seeking clarification as to his prospective status for the match in Rome. He has said he would resign from the DP World Tour, of which he presently remains a member, if he is banned from Ryder Cup participation. It is thought some non-LIV golfers, notably Jon Rahm, think that should not happen.
When he joined LIV Golf at the end of July, Paul Casey said somewhat gnomically: “We could ask Mr Kinnings [Guy Kinnings, Ryder Cup director] why the relationship deteriorated between the European Tour [sic] and Saudi Golf. We’ve got a lot of questions but right now they all seem to be coming our way, not his.” He also said: “There’s been a time where I’ve actually given up my European Tour [sic again] membership because playing two tours was too difficult [but] I think a lot of guys would love to play LIV and also retain their European Tour [again] membership and then be part of the Ryder Cup if they can.” It is expected a legal ruling on that point will be delivered in February.
Back to McIlroy, who has been one of the front-runners in the PGA Tour’s recent reimagining of itself in order to ward off the threat posed by LIV Golf (no space for that here and if you have bothered to read this far you’ll know all about it anyway) and has probably been the most vociferous critic of LIV Golf among the leading players. “I hate what it’s doing to the game of golf,” he said at East Lake on Sunday. “I really do. It’s going to be hard for me to stomach going to Wentworth and seeing 18 of them [LIV golfers] there. It just doesn’t sit right with me.”
One of those 18 will be Lee Westwood, who is among the many who have been openly sceptical of the so-called ‘strategic alliance’ between the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour. He told John Huggan for Golf Digest: “I’ve seen how the PGA Tour has behaved over the years. There’s not been much give. They have always been bullies…taken all the best players from Europe away from the European Tour.” He has a point, and the announcement at the end of June that from next season the top-10 finishers on the DP World Tour rankings will earn a PGA Tour card seems to cement its position as a feeder system to Jay Monahan’s circuit; a transatlantic Korn Ferry Tour, if you like. As the flushingitgolf blog said: “What would Seve make of all this?”
Westwood also told Huggan: “Look at how often leading Europeans have recently supported the European Tour. See how many times they have come over and played in events. Typically, the answer is not many.” Again he has a point, which is why it is so notable that McIlroy is playing at Wentworth – indeed, and at Marco Simone in the Italian Open the following week. Having said that, McIlroy did say of the PGA Tour last weekend: “This is the best place in the world to play golf. It’s the most competitive. I don’t know why you’d want to play anywhere else.”
He is right, of course – the PGA Tour does have “the best players; it’s got the deepest fields”– but such an emphatic declaration just as he was about to cross the Atlantic to play a couple of tournaments in Europe did sound rather graceless and McIlroy mostly says the right thing, or at least he mostly says what he thinks in the right sort of way.
It could be an interesting week at Wentworth, both on and off the course. However, it does seem the emergence of LIV Golf will be or has been handled largely successfully by the PGA Tour (despite this week’s defection of Cameron Smith, the Open and Players champion and world No. 2) but has left the DP World/European Tour fundamentally and substantially weakened. Looking back to Casey’s comments, one wonders if Keith Pelley, CEO of the DP World Tour, and his colleagues ever contemplated a ‘strategic alliance’ with an entity that was not the PGA Tour; maybe one not a million miles from Mecca? Looking ahead, it could be a bumpy journey from here to the Eternal City in a little over a year’s time.
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