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Exclusive: PGL in the mix as European Tour financial partner

The Premier Golf League, the proposed global circuit to rival the PGA Tour, seemed to lose its viability in March after Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm said they would not defect to the fledgling league. However, the PGL has re-emerged as a threat in the past month, and in a curious way: In concert with the European Tour.

Sources tell Golf Digest that the European Tour, under financial stress amplified by the coronavirus pandemic, has been seeking economic support, and one of the entities in the mix is the PGL and its backers.

For years the European Tour has straddled the line of solvency, and the COVID-19 crisis has not alleviated the tightrope walk. Making matters worse is the prospect of Ryder Cup postponement, one of the primary money-making catalysts under the Euro Tour umbrella. The ramifications of a year delay to the biennial match could be catastrophic to the Euro Tour’s livelihood, to the point where the 2021 schedule might have to be “radically altered,” per sources, to account for its new economic reality.

This hardship has spurred talk of a PGA Tour-Euro Tour merger, a decades-old conversation. However, while there is great interest on the European side in such a partnership, the reaction in Ponte Vedra Beach has been lukewarm, sources say.

Of chief concern for the PGA Tour at the moment is getting its operations back, starting at the Charles Schwab Classic in June. Moreover, in preliminary discussions the Tour has sensed its European counterpart is looking not so much for a partner as someone to bail them out, and to serve as a consultant of sorts. The PGA Tour would only entertain any type of agreement if it felt its voice was equal, if not superior, on all Euro Tour decisions, and would want a significant slice of the Ryder Cup profits, a goldmine it’s been trying to attain from the PGA of America for years.

Due to the PGA Tour’s reluctance to this point, the Euro Tour brass has sought other channels of help, which is how the PGL is back in play.

Andrew Gardiner, the PGL’s chief executive officer, has relationships with executives and sponsors of the European Tour throughout his career in finance. Along with the PGL’s deep pockets—the league is believed to backed by Saudi interests—bringing on the PGL could solidify the European Tour for years to come. For the PGL, the partnership would act as a seat at the proverbial table following a strong rebuke from the game’s upper echelon stars, sources say. The European Tour’s heritage and tradition would give the PGL instant validity.

But a Euro-PGL alliance could have a significant impact on Euro-PGA Tour relations.

Sources say the PGA Tour’s braintrust view the PGL talks as nothing more than a bargaining ploy by the European Tour, hoping to get the PGA Tour off the sidelines. And yet, there is sincere belief that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan considers partnering with the PGL as betrayal. Sources say Monahan’s ultimatum to the players in January—“If the Team Golf Concept [one of the other names used by the PGL] or another iteration of this structure becomes a reality in 2022 or at any time before or after, our members will have to decide whether they want to continue to be a member of the PGA Tour or play on a new series,” Monahan wrote in a tour-wide email—could apply to the reconfigured European Tour.

It also remains to be seen how the players, specifically those who aired concerns about where the PGL’s money comes from, would view a PGL-Euro union. Adding to the complexity would be international players wanting to return to their country’s tentpole events (the Irish Open for McIlroy, the Open de España for Rahm).

Sources say the European Tour’s most desired route is with the PGA Tour. Nevertheless, should the European Tour suffer more setbacks in its business, and be met with continued tepidness with the PGA Tour, it will explore any roads necessary for survival.