JOHN MCHENRY: Ireland playing its part in a wider European Tour vision

Divide and Conquer is a well recognised method of negotiation, during which one vested party attempts to influence key sympathetic members of the opposition in order to gain control of a bargaining position or of the collective proceedings.

It’s not too surprising then to see that this strategy is regularly used by all of the professional tours worldwide in order to gain a greater influence in an ever-increasing global market for their athletes.

Where once the European Tour could count exclusively on its profile in Europe, the Tour now finds that its leading players are being targeted more and more by an increasingly restrictive but more lucrative PGA Tour.

And if that were not enough, the solid foundations that the European Tour has laid down over the past couple of decades in Africa and Asia are now too being threatened by a voracious PGA Tour actively looking to expand their boundaries, even suggesting that it should consolidate the world of professional golf into one organisation — theirs — based out of the US.

Having already consumed the Canadian Tour into its ranks, no one can argue that the financial strength and global positioning of the PGA Tour means that it has a lot to offer for anyone easily swayed, and given that Tim Finchem, the PGA’s Tour Commissioner, is so good at working the system, so convincing in his presentations, and so dogged in his preparation, you would be forgiven for thinking that he is prepared to do whatever it takes in order to “whip” the second largest professional tour in the world, into a consensus vote.

So right now the pressure is on for those involved on this side of the Atlantic.

Thankfully, it seems that for the time being, the European Tour is fully focused on forging its own destiny and never has this been more in evidence than with the statement they have made through their appointment of an “outsider”, Canadian Keith Pelley, as chief executive.

The ambitious Pelley, whose background is in media, has already ruffled feathers with his no-nonsense tough calls approach but it is his ambition to accommodate and facilitate the US-based European Tour players’ needs in order for them to spearhead his ambitious plans for the European Tour that have raised most eyebrows.

So far, it seems Pelley has their unequivocal backing to create a core number of hosted events that in time will offer similar prize funds to those on offer on the PGA Tour. But in order for this plan to succeed, Pelley, will not only need the support of his own players but also the support of many other high profile global stars currently playing on the PGA Tour in America.

If the debacle around the scheduling conflict of this year’s French Open, (to which Rory McIlroy has already committed himself) and the rescheduled World Golf Championship Bridgestone event in Ohio (to accommodate the Olympics) is anything to go by, expect some fireworks from both parties as Pelley tries to implement his vision and shape the European Tour’s destiny.

The Irish Open, I can confidently say, is part of that vision not only because of its rich heritage on the European Tour’s stage but more importantly because the event is hosted by our own Rory McIlroy, probably the most marketable player in world golf, and ably endorsed by Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell, Paul McGinley, and Ryder Cup captain, Darren Clarke.

Their input along with the support of current sponsors, Dubai Duty Free as well as the long-term “connected” support and goodwill of Dr Michael Smurfitt, Dermot Desmond, JP McManus, John Magnier, and Denis O’Brien, to mention just a few, mean the Irish Open can commercially remain a very powerful force in the world of professional golf. But the European Tour and Pelley must realise that this is a two-way process. To thrive, the European Tour must deliver on its ambitions and commitments, which in time may also include a change to a warmer date in the tournament calendar.

This week, as we mourn the passing of our own great Christy O’Connor Snr, who for so long helped create an identity for Irish golf on the world’s biggest golfing stage, it is fitting now that our greatest golfer of all time, Rory McIlroy, has committed himself towards further building Ireland’s legacy in the game.

As a venue, the K Club is perfect for such an occasion this week, not just because in 25 years of existence it has now completed the “grand slam” of hosting professional tournaments in Ireland, from the Irish PGA Championship, to the European Open, Ireland’s first and only Ryder Cup and now the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open but also because this week’s venue recognises the enduring commitment and vision of its owner, Dr Michael Smurfitt, towards making and keeping Irish golf relevant on the world stage. It promises to be a great event.


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