Letter from Europe
The rise of LIV Golf brings with it a potential boom for this once fledgling tour
Asian Tour CEO Cho Minn Thant and LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman during a February news conference announcing LIV's investment in the Asian Tour International Series.
Luke Walker/WME IMG
HEMEL HEMPSTEAD, England — Even before the grandly titled LIV Golf Invitational Series gets underway this week at The Centurion Club just north of London, winners and losers are emerging. Not players, of course. How well each one performs—and how much money they accumulate—only time will tell. But for the Asian Tour and the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) the signs are already becoming clear. And distinctly different.
For the Asian Tour, the emergence of LIV Golf as a force in the game has nothing but positive implications. For the DP World Tour, not so much.
This week, as many as 13 European-born players were in the 48-man LIV field, as well as a sprinkling of Australians and South Africans who regularly compete on the Old World circuit. Over the next few months, the likelihood is that more and more of the Wentworth-based tour’s players will be making similar switches, according to various sources. All of which will hugely benefit an Asian Tour strongly aligned with the Saudi-backed LIV.
It just makes sense, at least financially, for the vast majority of those who ply their trade on the DP World Tour. With first-place checks of $4 million available on the LIV Golf Invitational Series, many will be able to win more than their career earnings in the wake of only two weeks of top-notch performances. Throw in the ability to play on the Asian Tour’s “International Series,” a separate set of tournaments launched this year with money provided by LIV Golf Investments, and any decision becomes that much easier again.
Later this year, the DP World Tour will feel more pressure when the World Ranking points allocated to its events are downgraded thanks to a previously announced change in the formula calculating the weekly list. By way of example, the 24 points won by Thorbjorn Olesen at last month’s British Masters will, after Aug. 1, be worth only nine. Chances are, not many DP World Tour players who play “at home” are going to be playing their way into the world’s top 50 any time soon.
And there’s more. Throw in the strategic alliance that will see PGA Tour players play in co-sanctioned events in Europe and the squeeze on the rank-and-file DP World members becomes more acute. Next month’s Scottish Open is a perfect example. At the Renaissance Club one week before the Open Championship, half the field will be made up of PGA Tour members.
“I am astonished at the direction the DP World Tour has gone,” says one DP World Tour player, who asked not to be identified. “The way we are positioned now is so poor. I’m not sure the players have quite grasped just how poor it is. We’ve signed up with the PGA Tour and that makes our position difficult. They are going to cherry pick our bigger events more and more. So the average member is going to have fewer opportunities. I can’t see the PGA Tour giving up spots to help our guys get into events ahead of their playoff qualifiers or Korn Ferry graduates.”
In contrast, officials with the Asian Tour are optimistic about its future. Speaking this week at The Centurion Club, chief executive officer Cho Minn Thant was painting a glowing picture of the road ahead, one that looked rather grim not long ago when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the tour to go dark for 19 months.
“There is a huge upside for us moving forward, one that is maybe a little unexpected,” Cho said. “I’ve received a number of emails and phone calls in the last 48 hours, all asking about the Asian Tour and the International Series [regular tour events]. They all wanted to know how they join and what the schedule looks like. Given that, it would appear that many players are going to be playing Asian Tour events this year and next. With bigger names comes more spotlight and bigger purses. Hopefully, that increases the value of the Asian Tour and the International Series. And our membership will benefit from playing in bigger and better events.
Cho hand Scott Vincent the winner's trophy after the tour pro from Zimbabwe won the first event on the Asian Tour International Series last week.
Luke Walker/LIV Golf
“Kevin Na is one who has already said he would like to play more Asian Tour events,” he continued. “Graeme McDowell is planning to play in three or four more International Series events. I’m sure the likes of Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen will do the same. Both are no strangers to golf in Asia. They have played in the co-sanctioned events, the Thailand Championship and the Indonesian Masters.”
The mood, however, amongst many DP World Tour players is border-line bitter. Not too long ago, LIV Golf officials offered chief executive Keith Pelley a similar deal to the one that has made Cho so happy. Instead, Pelley chose to go with the establishment in the shape of the PGA Tour.
“We had an opportunity to do something a bit more imaginative with LIV Golf,” says our DP World player. “There is a significant body of opinion on our tour that thinks we should have done that. That would have given us access to a world-class pool of players. They could have been playing all the LIV events, as well as adding to the fields in our events. If we had four or five really big names doing that, the DP World Tour would have been enhanced. It would have been massive. And I can’t believe we didn’t do that.
Especially frustrating for DP World Tour players is the knowledge of how close Pelley came to a deal with the Asian circuit. But, as often happens, “politics” got in the way, people protecting their positions.
“Very early in the piece, when we were evaluating our options, we looked at whether we should go with the PGA and European Tours, or whether we go down the road we are on now,” Cho says. “It was evident that if we chose that first option, we would still be below the European Tour, which would have limited the growth of the Asian Tour. Now, our potential is almost limitless. As recently as a few months ago, we were looking at the possibility of us going up with the tours around us, the Australasian Tour, the Japan Tour, the Korean Tour. The feeling was that would have made a very good product. I’d still like to work with other tours. I know the PGA Tour and the European Tour have drawn their lines in the sand. But we are still very open to working with South Africa, Japan and Australia.”
Not surprisingly, Cho has no regrets about the path he has followed. Even the human rights argument with regard to the Saudis has little impact on his mood. The Asian Tour, after all, has been there before when holding tournaments in places like China, Cambodia and Myanmar.
“If we took everything into account based on a country’s history, we probably wouldn’t have any tournaments,” he says. “We have to adapt to what is happening in the market. Being rigid doesn’t help. I think we reflect the global nature of the game. I can see our tour exploding in a good way over the next few years.”