Martin Vousden’s Column

May 30 2017

Thought for the Day
You cannot change what you refuse to confront

New broom sweeps clean
Keith Pelley took over as chief executive of the European Tour almost two years ago and had given the organisation exactly the shake-up it needed. But any successful chief exec, in addition to business acumen and flair, needs a healthy dose of good fortune. The last of these was delivered by Swedish golfer Alex Noren who stormed through the final round of the BMW Championship at Wentworth with a last day 62, a new course record, to win by two strokes. If Keith Pelley sits at his headquarters on Monday with a big smile on his face (and I’m prepared to bet that he will be in his office despite it being a bank holiday), he has earned the right to be just a tad self-congratulatory.

Keith Pelley

He looked at the BMW Championship, which the Tour regards as its flagship event, on a par with the Players Championship at Sawgrass, and wondered why it was not attracting the best players in the world, particularly home-grown stars like Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose. He was told that the Wentworth venue was not up to standard (despite a recent revamp by Ernie Els’ construction company) and that the prize fund was insufficient. He gambled, adding an extra £1 million to the pot from the Tour’s own cash reserves of £13 million. For the first time the total prize fund on offer was bigger than the concurrent event on the PGA Tour (last week’s Dean and Deluca Invitational in Texas). The money on offer there was $6.9m, and although the BMW’s purse is only fractionally higher at $7m, symbolic differences matter. The Tour will also be subsidising the prize funds at this year’s Scottish and Irish Opens.

More strikingly, Pelley persuaded the owners of Wentworth to replace all 18 greens on the famed West Course – the biggest problem as far as the players were concerned, and make many of the bunkers significantly shallower. It is difficult if not impossible to find any in the field who has not wholeheartedly approved. In addition, the event is the first of the new Rolex series, an eight-tournament bunfest that could add an estimated £50 million to the money for which the players compete.

When Pelley’s surprise appointment was announced in the summer of 2015 we all had to hurriedly research this Canadian of whom we knew fairly little, to discover he was ex-president of Rogers Media and a former boss of Canadian Football League outfit the Toronto Argonauts. On appointment he said he, hoped to make the Tour ‘significantly different’ by 2018 and is well on his way to making that ambition a reality. This livewire entrepreneur introduced the GolfSixes earlier this month, the two-man international matchplay competition won by Danish duo Thorbjorn Olesen and Lucas Bjerragaard (and try typing that when you have a hangover).

It was not to the taste of some purists – ie old farts who resist any sort of change – but went down pretty well with players and spectators alike, particularly as it introduced the Shot Clock, which allowed only 40 seconds for the golfer to play. As Pelley himself said, it may need tweaking, but it is a welcome and radically different offering from the relentless diet of 72-hole strokeplay we endure for the rest of the season.

The European Tour badly needed an overhaul. After decades of apparently unstoppable growth under Ken Schofield, he was succeeded in by his deputy George O’Grady in 2004. When describing former prime minister Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill reportedly said: ‘An empty taxi pulled up at Westminster and Clement Attlee got out,’ (an attribution Churchill always denied). Attlee was also described as a modest man with much to be modest about and there were some who felt the same about O’Grady. This is not quite fair because he had the misfortune to take over the reins as world economies took a downturn and it is unreasonable to expect someone embedded in an organisation for decades to be able to view it with the fresh eyes needed to plot a new path.

Keith Pelley has those eyes and the significant gambles he is taking deserve applause, which should also be directed to the European Tour’s chairman David Williams, who had the insight to recognise that radical steps were needed, and appoint the man to implement them.

Quote of the Week
The cardinal principle of all golf shot-making is that if you move your head, you ruin body action
Tommy Armour

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