From a normally sedate corner of Surrey, the European Tour Group’s chief executive, Keith Pelley, issued the most passionate defence yet of his organisation against what he labelled “the LIV propaganda machine”. Golf’s civil war shows no sign of abating.
During an extraordinary 45-minute press conference on the eve of the PGA Championship, Pelley took aim at Sergio García, blasted “fictitious” claims about a supposed offer from Golf Saudi and insisted the DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour, has never been in better health.
Pelley has found himself under siege as the breakaway, Saudi-backed LIV Series has attracted many of his tour’s members including high-profile ones such as García, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter. Until now, the Canadian has largely kept his own counsel on LIV matters. That changed on Wednesday.
Having castigated “irrational and ludicrous comments on social media” which he believes are deliberate attempts to “sabotage the narrative”, Pelley said: “As I said to our partners and sponsors on a Zoom call last week, it is easy to get dragged down by the LIV propaganda machine, churning out negative news stories and misinformation about the poor state of the traditional golfing world, including our tour. It’s just not right. And let me make this perfectly clear; nothing could be further from the truth. We are in excellent shape and set to get even stronger.”
There have been suggestions Pelley walked away from a $1 billion deal to partner with the Saudis. “There’s only one word to describe that claim and that is ‘fictitious,’” added the chief executive. “You can ask any member of our board of directors, and they will unanimously confirm that it was not an offer, it was not a deal, it was merely a marketing presentation put together on behalf of Golf Saudi.
“I often get the question, why can’t we work with both the PGA Tour and the Saudis. We tried. But the Saudis remain determined to set up a new series outside of the current ecosystem. That decision has created the conflict we see today and we chose to partner with the leading tour in the game.”
Next up, García. The Spaniard, Europe’s leading Ryder Cup points winner of all time, said the DP World Tour “is going to become the fifth best in the world”. Pelley is not of a mind to accept that point, either. “One of our members who is playing here this week actually said that,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
“Let’s look at the facts,” Pelley went on to say. “If the metrics were determining the top tours in the world is just money, then the No 1 tour is the PGA Tour. Always has been. You could argue that the LIV Invitational Series is No 2. But the Asian Tour, $22.5 million, Korn Ferry, $20 million, Japan, $28 million, Australia, $5.8 million, Sunshine Tour, $7.4 million. Totalling all their prize funds together comes to just half of our tour. So even if the only metric is money, how possibly could we ever become No 5? Yet one of our players said we are on the way to being No 5. Wow.”
A number of LIV golfers believe they should be allowed to compete in the DP World or PGA Tours, with legal battles ongoing as to whether they will be able to do so in the future.
“I don’t believe it’s okay to break the rules and regulations without consequences,” Pelley argued. “They [the PGA Tour] were competitors, but at the same time we had an understanding that we would release our players on our respective tours. But the biggest difference is that we stayed in each other’s lanes. They didn’t stage events in Europe and we didn’t stage events in the US.
“LIV’s first event was in our territory in the UK and people are asking me now about Valderrama. They are talking to every one of our stakeholders, every one of our partners, every one of our broadcasters.
“We have, incidentally, a meeting with Valderrama this coming Friday and no contract has been signed with LIV. But they have made them an offer. So they are a competitor and that is a different distinction than what the PGA Tour has been over many years. They were a competitor but a partner at the same time.”
Should a LIV convert called Pelley and state he had made a mistake, would he be welcomed back into the European fold? “I tend not to speak on hypothetical situations,” Pelley said in response to that question. “But if that does happen, I would have a conversation with the individual.” – Guardian