This is Why Keith Pelley Deserves a Break
Golfshake's Derek Clements comments in this week's View From The Fairway on the reaction to the imminent departure of DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley and why he believes that criticism levelled at the Canadian is harsh.
For the life of me, I cannot understand the criticism that has been levelled at Keith Pelley, who is about to leave his role as chief executive of the DP World Tour.
Perhaps the timing of his move could have been better. In an ideal world, he would have left his job when the future of professional golf had finally been resolved, when some sort of framework had been agreed between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf. But life is not always like that.
Pelley has been accused in some quarters of selling out to the PGA Tour. I don’t agree. It cannot be a bad thing that the likes of the Scottish Open is now a PGA Tour event, guaranteeing a world-class field and a huge prize pot every year.
And the 10 PGA Tour cards now on offer through the Race to Dubai means that European golfers who might not otherwise have had the chance to do so are being offered an opportunity to compete against the best golfers on the planet on a weekly basis. Why is that a bad thing? And, of course, not all of them will succeed, while others may decide that life on the other side of the Pond is not for them after all. But they deserve the chance to try, surely?
It has been claimed that the departure of golfers to the PGA Tour will devalue the standards on the DP World Tour. But while that may be true to a certain extent, it also means there is even more of an incentive for Europe’s up-and-coming young stars to work even harder at their games on their home tour. And did you see the size of the crowds at the Dubai Desert Classic? Those things do not happen by accident.
Pelley is responsible for many positives - despite the global economic situation, his players are competing for record prize money, and they are doing so all over the globe, which can only help to grow the game and spread the word.
He believes the way forward must be worldwide, but that is surely already happening. This year the DP World Tour will or already has visited the Middle East, Australia, India, South Africa, Korea, Singapore, Japan, China and just about every country in Europe. It really doesn’t get more global than that.
Pelley said: "I think the growth of the game is global. That’s where the focus needs to be."
He pointed to the PGA Tour deal that will bring in a staggering £2.7bn investment from the Strategic Sports Group which includes the Fenway organisation that owns Liverpool Football Club and the Boston Red Sox baseball team.
"They understand the importance of global. PIF (Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund) certainly understands the importance of being global," he said.
"Every business now that is growing wants to be global. What I would like to see is the game becoming unified with a global strategy.” Amen to that! We all want to see unity, don’t we?
Pelley believes the PGA Tour is coming round to an international schedule. Rory McIlroy wants events such as the Australian and South African Opens to become key destinations in a unified calendar. And while I believe much of McIlroy’s thinking may be muddled, it makes perfect sense for these tournaments to be expanded.
"I think the PGA Tour is coming to the realisation that global is the key for the growth," Pelley stated.
How this is going to happen is still up in the air but Pelley believes things will look clearer by the time he leaves his post in April.
He said: "The conversations have heated up since Ryder Cup. We expected that. There's a will from all parties. You bring in somebody like FSG (Fenway), which is now SSG, with powerful players like Steve Cohen (billionaire owner of the New York Mets). And then I think there's a willingness with PIF, and there's certainly a willingness with us.
“I think it's pretty exciting for the game."
He admits that the framework agreement announced on 6 June, 2023 between the PGA and DP World Tours and PIF was widely misinterpreted. "It was to unify the game," Pelley said. That, of course, is not how the players saw. McIlroy was livid at the way it was handled and announced - and he was not alone. And nobody can blame him for saying that he felt he had been hung out to dry.
I believe that Pelley's nine years as chief executive of the DP World Tour have been largely successful. He knew that he needed to change its business model, buying back a 50% share of their media operation in 2017 from the International Management Group (IMG) so that the tour wholly owned European Tour Productions.
Ultimately, 40% of that company moved into the hands of the PGA Tour as part of the 'strategic alliance' that was struck between the world's two biggest golf tours.
As part of that deal, the leading 10 players on the DP World Tour are handed cards to play in the US the following year. It was a controversial move, with some observers suggesting Europe were giving away their biggest talents.
Pelley continues to vehemently defend the move, stating that he acted in the best interests of his organisation's 486 members. "It's impossible to make them all happy," he admitted.
The partnership with the PGA Tour helped the DP World Tour to survive the Covid pandemic. That is a fact. During his time in charge he created a 38-tournament schedule in a period when global sport and travel were savagely hit by the impact of coronavirus. And it has continued to grow.
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