Tait’s Take: Rory McIlroy and other top names really do matter in European Tour events

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Tait’s Take: Rory McIlroy and other top names really do matter in European Tour events

Euro Tour

Tait’s Take: Rory McIlroy and other top names really do matter in European Tour events

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LONDON, England – Rory McIlroy matters as much to the European Tour as Tiger Woods does to the PGA Tour, no matter what Keith Pelley says. The same goes for Europe’s other “names.”

The European Tour chief executive was in an ebullient mood (when is he not?) at the European Tour Hilton Golfer of the Year lunch at the swanky Biltmore Mayfair Hotel in Grosvenor Square, London. Pelley celebrated Jon Rahm winning the Golfer of the Year award, and gushed over the Tour’s accomplishments in 2019.

Pelley spent part of his 25-minute speech reiterating his view that he wasn’t obsessed with star participation. The Canadian made the same point to a select group of journalists during the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, which Rahm won to end the season as European No. 1.

“Talk of player participation is very important to us,” Pelley said in Dubai. “But it’s not the only thing that defines a great tournament.

“If we spend our entire time on top-player participation and if that was the only metric that our sponsors and partners look toward, then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

“So we look at it but we don’t become obsessed with it.”

He would say that, wouldn’t he, since it’s getting harder to guarantee top player participation because of the money these guys are earning?

To make his point, Pelley lauded the Turkish Airlines Open and Nedbank Golf Challenge, two of the final three 2019 Rolex Series tournaments. Both tournaments featured up-and-coming players in Matthias Schwab and Marcus Kinhult going against established Ryder Cup stars in Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood.

True, both events featured exciting finales. They also suffered from a lack of “names.” They were the weakest of this year’s eight Rolex tournaments, events with a prize fund of $7 million or more. The Nedbank had a strength of field rating of just 191, Turkey was second weakest with a 234 ranking. By comparison, the BMW PGA Championship was strongest at 416, stronger even than the DP World at 367. The Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open was third at 309.

Pelley took the time during the Player of the Year lunch to have a playful dig at myself and other members of the media sitting at table No. 4 for our obsession with top-player participation. Here’s the truth, Keith: We have a better chance of covering a European Tour event if Rory and other top names are in the field. It’s a far easier sell to our sports editors.

Rory not only has greater appeal to golf fans, but non-golf fans too. Just as Tiger does. Most of my friends who don’t follow golf know who Rory is. Most probably have no idea who Schwab or Kinhult are, no matter how good they might become, and they might struggle even to pick Hatton and Fleetwood out of a police line-up.

Just as Woods moves the needle anywhere he plays, it’s the same with McIlroy on the European Tour. His involvement in a tournament, any tournament, means more fan interest, more media interest and therefore more publicity for the sponsor. I’ll guarantee the happiest sponsors of the eight Rolex Series tournaments this year were the three Rory played in – the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, BMW PGA Championship and DP World.

I had a conversation recently with a golf administrator at a golf course which has previously held European Tour events. I asked if the course was interested in hosting another tournament any time soon. Yes, was the answer, but not if it meant getting the European Tour’s B-team.

If the Rolex Series events can’t guarantee the top names, then what chance do sponsors with less funds have?

Star participation matters, Keith, no matter how you spin it.

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