From the outside, the DP World Tour last week looked far from under existential threat.
The Betfred British Masters at The Belfry was just about like everything we used to love about what was the European Tour.
Big, enthusiastic crowds – a sellout of 15,000 on Sunday. What has become – in time – a classic venue for the circuit. A thrilling final days’ play featuring multiple good tales and a redemption story to finish with.
The buzz was “back to normal”. Covid is gone – almost – and the Tour can thrive again.
Some meat on the very skinny bone coming this week
Sergio Garcia, frustrated with what he thought was the early start of the clock to look for a lost ball, seemingly telling a rules official…
…I cant wait to leave this tour
…cant wait to get outta here
…just a couple more weeks until I don’t have to deal with you any more pic.twitter.com/k1qRRYbmsF
— The Fried Egg (@the_fried_egg) May 5, 2022
Yet this week we’re going to get a little more meat on the skinny bone of the LIV International Series opener at Centurion next month.
On Tuesday the PGA Tour has to announce whether it is granting player releases to play in the $25 million event.
The accepted word is that Jay Monahan and blazers will not pick their fight here. The PGA Tour has regulations that prohibit members from playing clashing events on other tours within US borders, but not internationally. They will keep their powder dry for the first LIV event in the US, at Portland in the first week in July.
The DP World Tour, however has no such regulations demanding the loyalty of its players. They instead can do little but make forlorn pleadings. Like the letter chief executive Keith Pelley distributed to the membership warning the very existence of the tour was under threat.
There are no deadlines or necessary releases for DP World players. But those tempted by the many millions at Centurion are not daft – they know the public perception of reaching for the money here is not a great look.
Westwood and MacIntyre’s contrasting views
Robert MacIntyre explains why he won't be teeing it up in the LIV Golf Invitational Series… pic.twitter.com/ceCbDwgEZD
— Golf Monthly (@GolfMonthly) May 5, 2022
You got that sense in the reaction to Lee Westwood and Robert MacIntyre’s comments on LIV last week. Westwood, who wants to play, poured out the usual justifications and whatabouteries, hiding behind “politics” and “opinions”.
MacIntyre, who won’t entertain joining LIV, called it an “obscene amount of money”. He didn’t mean it was obscene because it was coming from the Saudis, just playing for that amount of money in sport generally.
MacIntyre’s comments were widely lauded, Westwood was roundly castigated.
A common reaction to Westwood’s statements were that people would have greater respect if he merely stated what is obvious, that he’s attracted by a bumper payday as his career reaches its final throes.
Those prominent players we know are lining up to join LIV – Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, possibly Ian Poulter – are of the same age and vintage.
This week LIV have a media day at Centurion – I was not invited, not that this means anything – where we’ll probably get more revelations.
One might be the information doing the rounds in a sotto voce fashion detailing just how close Pelley and Tour came to partnering with the Saudis themselves a couple of years ago.
It’s clear from these off-the-record briefings that it would have been an all-encompassing arrangement. Yes, even to the extent of Ryder Cup investment.
But however much detail is released, we kind of knew the basics anyway. Pelley has admitted that he’d talked in detail to the Premier Golf League people – the original partnership before the Saudis took off by themselves. He also said he’d kept the PGA Tour abreast of the discussions the whole way.
Pelley played suitors off against each other
— Alistair Tait 🏴🇨🇦🇺🇦 (@GolfTait) March 16, 2022
He was playing them off, no question. But it worked – the strategic partnership with the PGA Tour was the result. The tour used its considerable leverage, that thing that Phil Mickelson is so keen on.
The PGA Tour citadel will likely hold strong. There seems to be absolutely no enthusiasm for LIV among the under-40 superstars.
There is other leverage at work. We already know of one prominent Ryder Cup player who has been warned off joining up by key sponsors he can’t afford to lose. It’s suspected Henrik Stenson would have gone had he not got the Ryder Cup captaincy.
Even on the DP World Tour, there are many aspirational, talented young players like MacIntyre who don’t want anything to complicate their future progress through the ranks to PGA Tour membership and major championships.
But there are also more than a few for whom an easy payday is – I understand reluctantly – too good to pass up.
That’s why despite the success of The Belfry last week, these are stressful and testing times for the DP World Tour. What are they going to be left with when this summer’s gone?
A proper golf course and venue
🗣 "You forget what British crowds feel like."@Danny_Willett has been a fabulous host at the Belfry for the Betfred British Masters but it's the crowds that have really made this tournament.#BetfredBritishMasters pic.twitter.com/mR3M4lcSD1
— Betfred (@Betfred) May 8, 2022
The Belfry and the Brabazon Course has taken a beating over the years. Even when it was becoming a Ryder Cup legend in the late 1980s and 90s, it was a “paddy field”.
Certainly not the best course in England. Nor the best in the Midlands. Possibly not the best in the greater Birmingham area and only maybe the best in Sutton Coldfield. So went the old joke.
Well, it’s still not a classic, but it has evolved into a proper golf course. There’s strategic challenges galore and some really terrific, even historic holes.
The Belfry fell out of favour for tournaments for a while. Only when Covid struck did it take a couple of tournaments back, and last week’s British Masters was the first with a full audience for 15 years.
And do you know what, it was terrific. There was a proper atmosphere, the kind you only get at places like the Open venues or Wentworth.
The Belfry has become the Gleneagles of England; a proper, luxury golf resort and tournament venue in the middle of the country that is easily accessible and hugely popular to people coming from all parts. I hope that top-order golf keeps going back there.