So much for Keith Pelley’s goal of getting the top European Tour players to play more on their home circuit. It didn’t exactly work out in the season-ending $8 million DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
Pelley launched the lucrative Rolex Series two years ago with intention of ensuring Europe’s top players competed more on their home tour. What tour pro wouldn’t want to play in a tournament worth a minimum $7 million? And who in their right mind would turn down a $13 million, season-ending event (an $8 million prize fund and $5 million bonus pool for the top 10 players)? How about Justin Rose and Paul Casey? They didn’t seem to get Pelley’s memo. Both sat out the DP World.
Rory McIlroy could skip next year’s event after hinting in Dubai he may quit the European Tour next year to focus on the PGA Tour. Not the sort of news Pelley wanted as he punctuated an excellent European season that produced a Ryder Cup win and a major champion in Francesco Molinari, the 2018 European No. 1.
Some might be wondering how Pelley justifies his $3.5 million pay package when he can’t get his top players to play in a $13 million tournament, and can’t get his star attraction to commit to just four regular European tournaments next season.
Rose was cryptic about skipping Dubai, saying the reason would become apparent in 2019. Rose was on course to win a potential $750,000 bonus for finishing second on the European money list, money he could only earn by playing the DP World.
Still, Rose isn’t short of cash. He’s reportedly just signed a five-year, $10 million per year club contract with Honma that requires him to play eight Honma clubs. No wonder he can afford to say no to a Middle East trip.
There was no official reason for Casey missing the season finale. Casey made much of re-joining the Tour to play in the Ryder Cup. The least he might have done was play in the year’s final event.
If the absence of star players sat heavily on Pelley’s mind, he didn’t show it in Dubai. The bespectacled Canadian may be diminutive in stature, but he’s got that hockey player’s mentality of never backing down from a scrap.
“Our two critical KPIs [key performance indicators] are playing opportunity and prize funds,” Pelley said. “The 100th-ranked player in 2016 made €275,000. This year, they are going to make over €400,000.
“This year on the schedule, I think there are 4,382 playing opportunities, which is a little up from last year but it’s five or six hundred more playing opportunities than a couple of years ago. As a members’ organization, that’s key, providing opportunities for people. We’re thrilled with the media value and we’re thrilled with what the Rolex Series has brought to the tour.”
Rolex might think otherwise. The luxury watch company probably couldn’t care less about the 100th ranked player. Star players skipping lucrative events isn’t what they signed up for.
Pelley has another potential PR disaster looming. The European Tour travels to Saudi Arabia next year for the Saudi International from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 amid the House of Saudi’s fall from grace following Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Pelley was resolute recently when asked about breaking new ground in Saudi Arabia.
“I can simply say that the Saudi International is on our schedule in 2019, and I really don’t have anything more to add than that,” he said several times to repeated questioning.
So the curtain falls on another European season, but a glimpse through that curtain suggests everything isn’t rosy backstage at the European Tour. Gwk