New alliance gives 10 European tour players PGA Tour cards
By DOUG FERGUSON
The PGA Tour is awarding 10 cards to European tour players and bringing back a direct path to the big leagues from Q-school as part of an expanded partnership with Europe that aims to strengthen themselves against the Saudi-funded LIV Golf.
The joint venture with Europe is a 13-year deal that goes through 2035, and the PGA Tour increases its stake in European Tour Productions, the tour's media and commercial branch, from 15% to 40%.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan last week outlined significant changes to the schedule that will feature a January-to-August season starting in 2024 and create purses of $20 million on average for eight elite events.
The changes outlined in a conference call Tuesday give European tour players immediate access to the PGA Tour. The leading 10 players - excluding those already on the PGA Tour, such as Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm - will have full cards for the following year.
The partnership is likely to create better coordination of a global schedule for both tours. The Scottish Open next week is the first tournament co-sanctioned by both, and the field is the strongest in tournament history.
"While this closer collaboration between our tours was always in the road map of our strategic alliance, it's pretty obvious to say the current situation in golf has significantly accelerated that process," European tour CEO Keith Pelley said.
In addition to access to the leading 10 European tour players, the PGA Tour is restructuring who it brings on domestically.
The tour now offers cards to the top 25 players on the Korn Ferry Tour, with an additional 25 cards from a three-tournament series for players from the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour members who finished outside the top 125.
Starting in 2023, the top 30 players from the Korn Ferry Tour get cards. For everyone else, there will be Q-school in which the top five players and ties go straight to the PGA Tour. The tour has not offered direct access from Q-school since 2013. That means top college players will have a chance to avoid a year on the Korn Ferry Tour.
The PGA Tour believes that with 30 cards to Korn Ferry Tour players, 10 from Europe and five or more from Q-school, it will create more opportunities for those who finished just outside the top 125 and have only conditional access.
"Ultimately for us it's all about creating the best, most efficient competitive platform for the best players in the world to ... establish context, to establish historical relevancy and to establish relevancy in the eyes of fans throughout the world," Monahan said.
Based on last year's European rankings, the leading 10 players would have gone all the way down to Laurie Canter of England at No. 24 (Canter is now part of LIV Golf).
Pelley said the European tour should not be looked upon as a "feeder tour" because of a schedule that features national opens across continental Europe and the Middle East swing, such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Even so, with historically two dozen of the top finishers in Europe on the PGA Tour - the leading 10 and current U.S. members - they would be playing fewer events in Europe.
Previously, players from the European tour and other main tours around the world could have earned money from majors, World Golf Championships or sponsor starts on the PGA Tour and earned a card if they were equivalent to No. 125 or better.
The new system would have helped U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick. He reached the top 50 in the world in 2015 but kept falling short of the 125 number and didn't earn a PGA Tour card until after the 2019 season. Under the new system, he would have been eligible to join the PGA Tour three years earlier.
Pelley, meanwhile, said he met with Golf Saudi in Malta last summer, presented its presentation to the European board and decided the offer was less compelling than the one it had turned down from the Premier Golf League some nine months earlier.
The European tour previously worked with Golf Saudi when the Saudi International was part of its schedule for three years. Pelley said he proposed Golf Saudi get involved with Europe's feeder Challenge Tour.
"I've been consistent that if, in fact, they are interested to play inside the ecosystem and not launch a rival tour that I think is detrimental to the game at large, then I personally, from DP World's perspective, would be open - and they know that - to having a conversation," he said.
"But I'm not interested and that's why there has been no conversation since the summer of 2021."
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Updated June 28, 2022