World No. 8 Rory McIlroy believes that big changes could be on the way for professional golf.
Appearing on the “No Laying Up” golf podcast, McIlroy said that “discussions have taken place” regarding a merger between the US-based PGA Tour and the England-based European Tour, the top two professional golf circuits in the world. Both tours hold weekly tournaments and are in a constant battle for ratings and marquee players.
“To have all these tours competing against each other, and having to change dates, it’s counter-productive,” McIlroy said. “I think everyone has to come together.”
Professional golfers are independent contractors, meaning they get to choose where and when they play. Most of the game’s top European golfers have status on both tours, while a number of prominent Americans enjoy playing in top European events, especially in the weeks leading up to The Open Championship. For these players, golf already has a “World Tour.”
But that’s not the case for the game’s rank-and-file players, especially in Europe. With so many big names jumping ship for the US — McIlroy, for example, played just three events on European soil this year — the European Tour’s lower-tier events are more sparsely attended than ever, meaning the players who do show up rarely get a chance to play against the very best.
Despite its rich tradition, the European Tour is quickly losing relevance to the massive payouts of the PGA Tour, and McIlroy believes the latter circuit could step in to create a solution that works for everyone.
“The easy thing would be for the PGA Tour to buy the European Tour and take it from there,” he said. “They could still run the European events and we’ll have, say, 12 big events a year, outside the majors, a bit like they do in tennis.”
The PGA Tour almost never relegates tournaments, so it seems that under McIlroy’s plan, it would sanction over 60 events, creating a kind of de facto “A-Tour” for the top players and a “B-tour” for smaller names. It would lead to a lot of unhappy sponsors on both sides of the pond, but even that might be preferable to the status quo. As long as the PGA Tour continues to attract top sponsors and advertising slots, golf’s inequality problem will continue to grow.
The PGA Tour has made many adjustments to accommodate a shrinking world. It established the World Golf Championships in 1997 to bring the game’s top players together, and it currently sanctions events in Malaysia, China, South Korea, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Partnering with the European Tour could be a logical next step.
McIlroy failed to qualify for this week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta. He’ll play in a pair of European Tour events next month before shutting things down for the year.
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