The Round Table: Has the DP World Tour become pro golf’s red-headed step-child?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Several years ago, The Players Championship was being touted as the fifth major because it had the strongest field in professional golf. With so many players having defected to LIV Golf, can The Players still claim to be the fifth major?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I don’t think a designation — official or, as in this case, unofficial — should depend on the quality of the field each year. I’ve always thought of The Players as a legitimate fifth major and will continue to do so.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I find this fascinating. The Players and Tour has worked so hard to escalate and claim it has the best field in golf (aka 5th Major), there is absolutely no way they can claim that at this time, not even close. It has definitely taken a hit and dropped further away from the Majors in terms of stature. I’ll still enjoy watching it, but there will be noticeable absences, unfortunately. Tough times right now for the PGA Tour.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: There is only one reason the Players can’t be a major and that is because the PGA TOUR owns it while the other four are not. Which goes to show how silly this debate is. The Players meets every possible criterion established by the other four except “That’s not the way we’ve always done it”! Why not deal with this once and for all? Up to 1974, the majors were The Open, The US Open, The PGA, The Masters and The Western Open. In 1974, The Players replaced the Western Open. The World Golf Hall of Fame should go back and credit each winner with their due accolades. As for LIV, this is another silly argument. “Those guys are still good”! However, currently, they aren’t available not unlike if a horrible tragic accident occurred. Sans L1V, The Masters is the Masters, the PGA is the PGA, the Open is the Open and the US Open is the US Open. BTW wasn’t the Open still a major in the 1950s and 1960s before the American players began playing more frequently?

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): If it keeps going in the same direction, it might be hard to say there are any majors! I guess the Players would still technically have the most competitive field on the PGA Tour, so maybe it can still claim fifth major, but the field certainly is watered down, as are all fields in golf.  To be honest, the Players has never really excited me, not exactly sure why. But I hope it’s a good one this year with some top names competing on Friday.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Remember back when the Canadian Open was often talked about as the Fifth? The Players’ (apostrophe necessary) was the fifth in all but name until…… it’s not anymore. The knee jerk Escalated/Elevated/Enervated events have gathered the money-hungry elite so many boring times already this so-called season that another gathering (no one really cares that the LIVers aren’t there) is not a big deal. It used to be the first pre-Augusta National gathering of the best, now it’s just another bloated purse event on a course that’s memorable thanks to Alice Dye.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Majors are defined by tradition, history, legacy, iconic golf courses, competition and the strength of field. The Players Championship has all that covered, and while the field this year may be missing some top players, it’s still the best in pro golf. That makes it a major in my mind.

Rory McIlroy spoke to the media last week and suggested that the PGA Tour needs to be more cutthroat. What he meant by that is it needs to feature more of the current hot players and fewer players getting in based on what they did five or ten years ago. He also likes the idea of fewer events and the smaller fields that are standard with the (elevated, designated, limited field, no cut, big money) Signature events. What’s your reaction to McIlroy’s view?

Deeks: Not sure I agree with the first point… guys who may be a bit past their prime (e.g., Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Brandt Snedeker) are still fan favourites, so why would you restrict them from playing? I’d far more want to watch them than a bunch of unknown college kids… until the unknown college kids start to grab trophies and recognition. As for fewer events that are limited field and no cut, well, yes, you can limit the fields if you like, but I don’t agree with no cut. Missing the cut is humbling and makes for a more determined player.

Loughry: The idea seems off. Do you know what one of the greatest stories in sport is? To quote Carl Spackler from Caddyshack, it’s the “Cinderella story”. Wasn’t Nick Dunlop a good story? Pulled in the best ratings of the year I believe so far. Smaller fields reduce or even eliminate the Cinderella stories, and that would be a shame for a Tour much in need of good storylines. That said, I absolutely agree with having fewer events, it’s saturated now, way too many and it’s been like that for far too long.

Schurman: Ring. Ring. Ring. Hello Mr. Norman…Mr. Greg Norman? Would you please tell me how to get this egg off my face?

Rule: Making to the PGA Tour is perhaps the hardest top level to achieve in any sport, so to make that class smaller isn’t the right move in my mind.  There would be fewer and fewer Cinderella stories to follow, which make following the Tour more interesting. Why do the events have to have smaller fields? Let some of the fringe players in with the top players and occasionally you get a great feel-good story out of it. So, I tend to disagree with his view.

Quinn: There was a time — way back, maybe 4-5 years ago — when golfers watched broadcasts of non-Majors (mute buttons worn to a nub) and were joined by millions of non-golfer viewers for the big events. That whole symbiotic relationship of golfers, golf fans, sponsors, and tourneys has been blowed up real good. The Tour is cutthroat enough already having severed its generational relationship with golfers and fans that allowed the Tour to exist and funnelled millions and millions of after-tax dollars to charities to support the Tour’s phony tax status. More cutthroat? Rory and the Tour should wait for the bleeding to stop (no guarantee) before making any more rash moves or statements.

Mumford: Rory is beginning to sound like Greg Norman circa 1995 or 2021. Sure it’s nice to see all the top players together a few times a year but so much is missed if the fields are limited. Fans always enjoy watching past champions and players on the back nine of their careers and they invariably add new and different compelling storylines to a tournament. As for his comment that there are too many tournaments – absolutely!

Last week, the PGA Tour announced the appointment of 13 people to the board of PGA Tour Enterprises, including 7 player directors. This is the umbrella organization that is supposed to oversee the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and potentially LIV Golf. Oddly, no players or executives from the DP World Tour were added to the board and little mention was made of the former European Tour in discussions about future plans. Has the DP World Tour become the red-headed stepchild of professional golf?

Deeks: It would seem to be that way. I’m sure Keith Pelley saw his influence being eroded before he jumped ship. But if the DP Tour continues to decline, will it not be ripe for some form of takeover by the Saudis, and a merger with LIV? I feel quite badly for the DP World players these days.

Loughry: Truly feel bad for the DP World Tour. In the grander vision, or lack thereof, this is indeed the red-headed stepchild of professional men’s golf. It honestly is a crime. The rest of the world is a MASSIVE golf market being virtually ignored by the PGAT. Pretty typical though if you consider they have been US focused for basically 50 years. And more proof, Adam Scott is the only “international player” on that Board, the rest: American.

Schurman: This is exactly what is wrong with the PGA TOUR! The owners (the Players) don’t have enough control and it’s a huge contributor to the birth of LIV. The concept of sponsors and their clients playing side-by-side in a Pro-Am with the best players in the world, the sponsor getting name recognition for vast amounts of money going to charity and the “boy next door” image of the TOUR worked for 50 years. The Board of Directors is heavily weighted toward business executives who only saw the TOUR through their own eyes allowing that concept to continue led by Tim Fincham. The visionary, Dean Beman retired leaving behind, PGA-owned courses, strong TV support and a strong base of players. The incomers thought the “golden goose’ could fly forever and made few if any innovations. Along the way, the players were denied access to financial records and other business-oriented necessities. And, then the worst thing that could possibly happen; did. Tiger! All creativity, long-term planning, and adjustment for the future stopped. Today’s PGA TOUR problems aren’t caused by LIV, they were exposed by LIV. Tiger is all but done and the PGA TOUR is clambering for a small branch to stop the free fall. If they had allowed the Players to be more involved years ago, they would have heard some of the grumblings. Instead, the Players heard “Sit down and shut up”.

Rule: It sure feels like it, soon it will just be a stepping stone to the PGA Tour akin to the Korn Ferry Tour. That would be a shame because of the history of the Tour and some of their high-end events, and the fact that some top European players over the years have preferred to stay on home soil to make their living. Hopefully, they can maintain a higher profile, but I don’t like the odds.

Quinn: Amazing how quickly there was one less chair at the table. At least Pelley knew it was time to head back to Canada before the music stopped. How can this aspect of the growing shambles be buttressed? Now the world of non-Saudi golf is to be run by a bunch of pro golfers (they have the majority on the board) who almost certainly didn’t graduate university or college, and if they did, most likely didn’t major in business or even take a course vaguely related to How to Run a Multi-Billion Dollar start up. No gimmies from now on.

Mumford: I’ve maintained for some time now that two strong tours is a better alternative to one monopoly run out of Ponte Vedra Beach. It seems difficult for the PGA Tour suits to understand that an American solution isn’t always the best solution for all. Remember the World Golf Championships? The DP World Tour could and should do their own deal with the Saudi PIF and the Asian Tour to increase purses, develop a compelling schedule and start to fight back. There’s room for two big league tours. The DP World Tour just has to realize they can be one of them.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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