World No. 8 Rory McIlroy thinks big changes could be on the way for professional golf.
Appearing on the "No Laying Up" golf podcast on Tuesday, McIlroy said that "discussions have taken place" about a merger between the US-based PGA Tour and the England-based European Tour, the top two professional-golf circuits. Both tours hold weekly tournaments and are in a constant battle for ratings and marquee players.
"To have all these tours competing against each other, and having to change dates, it's counterproductive," McIlroy said. "I think everyone has to come together."
Professional golfers are independent contractors, meaning they get to choose where and when they play. Most of the game's top European golfers have status on both tours, while several prominent Americans enjoy playing in top European events, especially in the weeks leading up to the British Open. For these players, golf already has a "world tour."
But that's not the case for the game's rank-and-file players, especially in Europe. With so many big names jumping ship for the US — McIlroy, for example, played just three events on European soil this year — the European Tour now has more sparsely attended lower-tier events than ever, meaning the players who do show up rarely get a chance to play against the very best.
Despite its rich tradition, the European Tour is quickly losing relevance to the massive payouts of the PGA Tour, and McIlroy thinks the latter circuit could step in to create a solution that works for everyone.
"The easy thing would be for the PGA Tour to buy the European Tour and take it from there," he said. "They could still run the European events and we'll have, say, 12 big events a year, outside the majors, a bit like they do in tennis."
The PGA Tour almost never relegates tournaments, so it seems that under McIlroy's plan, it would sanction over 60 events, creating a de facto "A" tour for the top players and a "B" tour for smaller names. It would most likely lead to a lot of unhappy sponsors on both sides of the pond, but even that might be preferable to the status quo. As long as the PGA Tour continues to attract the top sponsors and advertising slots, golf's inequality problem will continue to grow.
The International Federation of PGA Tours has made many adjustments to accommodate a shrinking golf world. It established the World Golf Championships in the late 1990s to bring the game's top players together, and it sanctions events in Malaysia, China, South Korea, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. The PGA Tour partnering with the European Tour could be a logical next step.
McIlroy failed to qualify for this week's Tour Championship in Atlanta. He'll play in a pair of European Tour events next month before shutting things down for the year.
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