Rory McIlroy says he had seen up close how Tiger Woods has changed as a personRory McIlroy says he had seen up close how Tiger Woods has changed as a person (AFP Photo/Toshifumi KITAMURA)
Chiba (Japan) (AFP) - The US PGA Tour is ready to roll the dice and unveil gambling at tournaments "from next year" to tap into new audiences, Commissioner Jay Monahan has revealed to AFP.
Gaming restrictions are being relaxed across the United States and golf has been preparing for legalised sports betting for years, Monahan said in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan.
"You'll start to see product in the market place next year," he said, with the primary aims to attract new fans and to prolong interest over a tournament day, which can stretch to 12 hours or more.
The $9.75 million Zozo Championship, which began Thursday featuring Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in a star-studded field, is the middle leg of the Tour's new Asian swing, worth almost $30 million in prize money.
It began last week in South Korea at the $9.75 million CJ Cup won by Justin Thomas and concludes at the $10.25 million WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai next week.
"It's all about engagement," said Monahan of the plan to introduce gambling.
"When done right, it gives fans the opportunity to engage with your sport over a longer period of time and have more interest in what's happening across the entire player field."
Monahan is acutely aware that gambling within the sport will need rigorous monitoring, given match-fixing scandals that have dogged sports such as cricket and football.
"It's legalised in a lot of international markets and we've put the right systems in place, both in terms of an integrity programme and monitoring activity," explained Monahan, who has been in charge of the world's biggest golf tour since taking over from Tim Finchem in January 2017.
- 'We've done a ton of work' -
"As it is becoming legalised by state in the US, you can either participate or not, and we feel smarter to be participating... versus let others control it," he added.
Monahan would not be drawn on exactly what products might be unveiled but said they were being developed in an international partnership with IMG Arena -- specialists in sports and the betting industry -- with integrity the top priority.
"Once you start to participate, you can eliminate negative bets," he said. "We've done a ton of work to make certain that that's the position we're in.
"I think when we come forward, you'll see that we've taken significant steps to address that. We're going to participate in a thoughtful way and I'm really comfortable with that."
Japan is a golf-crazy country and there have been massive crowds flocking to Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) outside Tokyo, for the new $9.25 million event to see the likes of Woods, McIlroy and home-grown hero Hideki Matsuyama.
It is whetting the appetite for next year's Olympics in Tokyo, said Monahan.
"I'm excited to come back here and see golf in Tokyo at an Olympic Games, I think it's going to be as passionate a following as any sport's going to have," said Monahan.
"There was so much positive energy around the 2016 Games.
"The players that competed loved it. We're not going to be playing opposite the week of the Olympics like we were in 2016," he added, underscoring the importance of the Games now in golf's global calendar.
And he had good news for golf fans in Japan -- the US PGA Tour is here to stay, beyond the initial six-year deal for the Zozo Championship.
"When we make a commitment to bring a new event to a market, that's a commitment that is permanent," Monahan said
"Our intention is to never leave Japan, to always have a PGA Tour event in Japan from this day forward."