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Keith Pelley defends actions to bolster DP World Tour, won’t ‘get dragged down by the LIV propaganda machine’

September 07, 2022
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Keith Pelley, DP World Tour CEO, speaks to the media during his press conference prior to the BMW PGA Championship.

David Cannon

VIRGINIA WATER, England — It’s been a while since Keith Pelley has said much of anything about the on-going conflict between the PGA Tour/DP World Tour strategic alliance and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf. But the DP World Tour chief executive finally ended his conspicuous absence from the fray during a lengthy press conference on the eve of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Reading from a statement before taking questions from the floor, Pelley laid out the case for professional golf’s establishment.

But first he went on the attack, lambasting what he called the misinformation that has been circulating since the emergence of the LIV Golf threat.

“There are a lot of irrational and ludicrous comments on social media, a lot from people with only a handful of followers and many accounts of which have only been set up in the last couple of months,” he said. “Given the nature of the medium, they can sometimes garner as much attention as a well-respected commentator or a knowledgeable and credible journalist. It is easy to get dragged down by the LIV propaganda machine, churning out negative news stories and misinformation about the poor state of the traditional golfing world, including our tour. This is definitely the most divisive period in any sport I've ever been involved in. The one thing I want to do this morning is take away all the background noise and just look at the cold, hard facts.”

To that particular end, Pelley launched into a lengthy justification for why the organization he leads is currently in partnership with the PGA Tour and not LIV.

“As a result of our partnership with and the investment of the PGA Tour, our prize funds are guaranteed for the next five years,” he said. “In fact, they are guaranteed to grow year over year, regardless of what happens with any of our stakeholders, partners or sponsors. Outside the majors and the one WGC which now remains, our members will play for $144 million next year and that will rise through every year to $162 million by 2027. In an ever-changing and challenging global landscape, that is a remarkable position for us to be in. We have stability for the next five years and a long-term option to continue after that for another eight years. We have certainty in an uncertain time.”

LIV Golf specifically was Pelley’s next target. And he didn’t miss, contrasting the Saudi-backed tour with the DP World Tour’s increasingly close trans-Atlantic relationship with the PGA Tour.

“LIV Golf and the PGA Tour are involved in a power struggle for our sport,” he began. “It is corporate America versus a sovereign state and a conflict fought out with eye-watering sums of money. Money on both sides in markets that we play in, that we play in, it is not possible to generate.

“I often get the question, why can't we work with both the PGA Tour and the Saudis,” Pelley continued. “We tried. But the Saudis remain determined to set up a new series outside of the current ecosystem. That decision has created the conflict we see today, and we chose to partner with the leading tour in the game. Some people might not agree with that decision. But it's a decision we feel is the right thing to do for all our members. Bringing the benefits of such an alliance to each and every one of the 326 players on the DP World Tour, not to just a small portion of the 48.”

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Keith Pelley explained that the strategic alliance with the PGA Tour will guarantee tour members will play for $144 million next year, and that number will rise through every year to $162 million by 2027.

Luke Walker

Still, Pelley saved his biggest expression of disappointment for those Europeans who have made the jump to LIV, then gone out of their way to disparage the DP World circuit. No names were named, but Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia are likely to be two of the players Pelley had in mind.

“Some of these players have said we are a feeder tour, and even made a suggestion that we are headed towards being the fifth tour in the world,” he said. “A feeder tour is a tour that exists purely to allow players to get to the next level. The Challenge Tour is a feeder tour. The Korn Ferry Tour is a feeder tour.

“I'll ask you: Is this week a tournament that is on a feeder tour?” he continued. “A tournament that have sold-out crowds, television coverage around the world in 150 countries, five of the top 15 players in the world? A tournament with 150 accredited media? Was our first co-sanctioned event with the PGA Tour in Scotland where 14 of the top-15 players played a tournament, would that appear on a feeder tour? I could go on and on.”

And he did, making the reasonable case that ranking tours depends on the criteria employed. It isn’t, according to Pelley, just about money.

“I don't believe the metric should be just prize fund: Playing opportunities, tournaments, number of countries, number of broadcast partners, the quality of our sponsors, different nationalities of our players and then total number of players, innovation both inside and outside the ropes,” he went on. “Inclusivity including embracing the women's game and golfers with a disability and our ability to develop a world tour for golfers with a disability. If those are the metrics, and I haven't even mentioned the Ryder Cup, which we operate in Europe, then we are not only golf's global tour, but we are also unquestionably the No. 2 tour in the world by a country mile. Yet one of our players [Garcia] said we are on the way to being No. 5. Wow.”

One last thing. Asked what he would do on Sunday if a LIV player should win the biggest event on the DP World Tour, Pelley took the high road.

“I would go up and I would shake his hand,” he said. “And I would say, ‘You have beaten 143 players in a 72-hole tournament, which we believe is a true testament to the game of golf that has been built since 1972.’”

Well said sir. At last.