You have to give European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley kudos for living up to his word. He promised a fresh approach to this sometimes staid game, and he’s delivered.
Pelley just needs his star players to buy into his vision.
The diminutive Canadian closed the recent GolfSixes by claiming the greensomes, match-play tournament would “definitely revolutionize the game.” We’ll have to see if that prediction comes true.
Hard on the heels of the GolfSixes comes this week’s Belgian Knockout at Rinkven International Golf Club in Antwerp. This event consists of 36 holes of stroke play, after which the top 64 players enter head-to-head knockout, stroke-play matches over nine holes on the weekend.
It’s a new format that should appeal to those who want more drama in professional golf.
The European Tour will debut the Shot Clock Masters in June at Diamond CC Atzenbrugg near Vienna, Austria. This event is designed to promote speedy golf, as every player is timed on every shot with stroke penalties for anyone who goes over the allotted time. (Quite why this should only be done for one event per year is beyond me. I’ve been arguing for a shot clock in golf for more than 20 years. If I had my way, every shot in every tournament would be timed, with stroke penalties for players impersonating snails.)
August sees the inaugural European Golf Team Championships over the Jack Nicklaus-designed Gleneagles PGA Centenary Course, venue for the 2014 Ryder Cup. This “revolutionary new golf event,” according to the European Tour’s website, features an equal mix of male and female professionals playing for equal prize money in a men’s and women’s team match-play championship, and an 18-hole foursomes stroke-play mixed team championship.
Players will represent their countries with 16 teams of two competing in the men’s and women’s team events before teams of four (two men and two women) contend in the mixed team championship.
“It is a hugely innovative and exciting format and will provide an historic moment for equality in sport with men and women competing together in the mixed team event,” 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie said.
As we saw in the GolfSixes, mixing men and women can be done in certain formats and adds another intriguing element. Any chance to mix the sexes in the same tournament on the same golf course is most welcome.
February saw the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth in Australia, another innovative event. That brings the tally of new formats on this year’s European Tour schedule to five. It backs up Pelley’s let’s-get-creative directive to his European Tour staff and his belief that the European Tour is in the entertainment business as well as the sports business.
As welcome as these events are in providing relief from a steady diet of 72-hole, stroke-play format, there’s one thing missing: star power.
This week’s Belgian event stands out slightly from the rest as Ryder Cup star Thomas Pieters is hosting the event. He’s a bona-fide star, but he’s the only real marquee name in the field. The $1.2 million event is so low down the European Tour food chain that players who lost their European Tour cards last year will tee it up. Englishman Nathan Kimsey gets a start despite finishing 147th on last year’s money list.
No disrespect to the likes of Paul Dunne, Eddie Pepperell and Matt Wallace who took part in the GolfSixes. They’re good players, but imagine a GolfSixes with Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Francesco Molinari, Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Pieters and the other big names of European golf.
Ditto for the other events listed above. There would be a bigger buzz at Gleneagles this August with the above names alongside Georgia Hall, Charley Hull, Mel Reid, Carlota Ciganda, Anna Nordqvist, Jodi Ewart Shadoff and other top European women.
So well done to Pelley for trying, but his “revolution” will gather more steam if he can get his stars to embrace these tournaments. And that will take a lot more money than he’s investing at the moment. Gwk