2005: O’Grady’s challenge: Plug talent drain
Thursday, August 18, 2011
New PGA European Tour executive director George O’Grady is going to need more announcements like the one he made Jan. 19 in order to stop an exodus of his top players to the PGA Tour.
O’Grady celebrated his first month in charge by announcing that German automaker BMW had committed at least 16 million euros over the next four years to become title sponsor of the European Tour’s flagship event, the PGA Championship. More sponsors with similar amounts of cash would make O’Grady’s job so much easier.
No one can dispute Ken Schofield’s record as O’Grady’s predecessor. The European Tour consisted of 17 official events worth about $750,000 when Schofield took over in 1975. The former bank manager took the European Tour beyond what anyone thought possible. Europe’s elite last year played for official prize money of 105 million euros (approximately $136 million), with 47 events worldwide.
O’Grady, 57, began his European Tour career as a tournament director in 1974.
He was Schofield’s right-hand man for nearly all of those years, and can take a sizable portion of credit for where the tour is today. The tour did the right thing by appointing him as Schofield’s successor. It couldn’t have picked a safer pair of hands.
“The relationships that Ken developed are all intact with George, because he was part of the team that forged those relationships,” said Mark Roe, a player and tournament committee member. “The game of golf is a small world, quite intimate, and those relationships with sponsors, with the federations, with the movers and the shakers are all in safe hands with George.”
Ken Brown, a former Ryder Cup player, takes a similar view.
“It’s a good appointment because George comes in at the right time,” Brown said. “All the TV deals are in place, and the tour is in great shape. George knows the business because he’s been at Ken’s side for the last 30 years, so he can carry things on.”
Schofield happened to rule at a time when Europe was blessed with five of the game’s best players. Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam, born within a year of each other, won majors during Schofield’s reign and formed the backbone of Europe’s Ryder Cup success. Cynics might say anyone could have sold European golf on the back of what those five, particularly Ballesteros, contributed to the game.
O’Grady faces a different atmosphere. For starters, a European has not won a major championship since Paul Lawrie won the British Open in 1999. And the PGA Tour is proving a bigger draw for Europeans than it did in the days of Ballesteros.
Europe may have won four of the past five Ryder Cup Matches, but the European Tour still is less lucrative than its American counterpart. It always has been so, and looks likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
Last year players such as Justin Rose, Jose Maria Olazabal, Jesper Parnevik, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia – all household names in Europe – played most of their golf on the PGA Tour. This year they will be joined by Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington, Philip Price, Greg Owen and Brian Davis.
And many other Ryder Cup players will split their time between the two tours.
Why? World ranking points.
PGA Tour events offer more rankings points, which in turn offer a greater chance to play in majors and WGC events.
Rose says ranking points are one of the main reasons he has set up shop in the United States.
“It’s very, very difficult, if not impossible, to play both tours if you’re outside of the top 50 in the world,” Rose said. “Right now, it’s one or the other (European or PGA Tour), and it’s going to be this side if I have to choose.”
O’Grady knows he can’t fight this. As successful as he and Schofield have been, the European Tour cannot match the PGA Tour in terms of prize money or in world ranking points. Only eight of the European Tour events last year that were not majors or WGC events topped the 3 million euros mark. And the problem is even more acute in non-Ryder Cup years, when players aren’t after European Tour money (which equates to Ryder Cup points).
O’Grady knows he cannot fight it head on, and has to rely on making certain parts of the European Tour as attractive as possible.
“We are not about holding our members back,” O’Grady said. “They must follow their career to get the maximum out of their talent. We’ve just got to make the European Tour and certain tournaments as good as we possibly can to make them want to come back.”
No doubt about it, O’Grady is the right man for the job, but plugging the talent drain will be one of his biggest challenges.