New commish Pelley trendsetting on European Tour

By Rex HoggardFebruary 3, 2016, 5:17 pm

Popularity is a science of diminishing returns. Ask, for example, 20 people in your office their thoughts on a given co-worker and it’s inevitable that someone will have something negative to say, no matter how popular said co-worker may be.

Keith Pelley, however, appears to be the mathematical exception to that rule, at least if an unofficial poll of players, coaches, caddies and managers two weeks ago during the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is any indication.

Pelley was named the European Tour’s new chief executive officer last April and in less than a year the Canadian has shaken the circuit in all the right ways.

“It’s impressive how much energy he has and the ideas he’s brought to the table,” said Chubby Chandler, the founder of International Sports Management, one of Europe’s most influential agencies.

Late last year, Pelley spearheaded a move to reduce the minimum number of starts required for European Tour membership from 13 (including the World Golf Championships and majors) to five (excluding the World Golf Championship and majors).

With the exception of Paul Casey – who correctly contends that for a top player who is exempt into the WGCs and majors the minimum number really didn’t change – the move was widely applauded.

Pelley followed with a sweeping overhaul of the tour’s pace of play policy that was unveiled two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi. A telling part of his popularity is why Pelley put the bull’s-eye on five hour-plus rounds.

“I told you we were going to tackle the challenge. As I’ve said all along, this is a member’s organization and I tried to solicit as much feedback as I could from the members,” Pelley recently said. “We continue to work with our players and the R&A in other ways in making our game quicker.”

The new commish wants to trim 15 minutes off the average tour round in Europe because, well, that’s what his members want.

The same could be said for Pelley’s push to allow players to wear shorts during practice and pro-am rounds.

“I asked the question, why don’t we wear shorts? And no one could give me an answer why not,” Pelley said. “It puts our players first and our fans first, as well.”

It was a similar motivation that prompted Pelley to dig in last year when the PGA Tour unveiled it’s 2016 schedule with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a co-sanctioned event, penciled in the same week as the French Open in July. To protect the French Open and organizers at Le Golf National, which will host the 2018 Ryder Cup, Pelley removed the Bridgestone from the European schedule and offered players double Ryder Cup points to play the French Open.

But it’s more than the recent transatlantic tiff that suggests the divide between the two tours has never been so vast, and much of that is the byproduct of Pelley’s leadership style.

Pelley is a player’s commissioner. Particularly when compared to Tim Finchem, who at times throughout his career has appeared to be more concerned with protecting the PGA Tour brand than the individuals who play under that shield.

“Hearing player feedback is something I take very serious,” Pelley said.

The new European chief leads by consensus but make no mistake he wants to lead, whether that’s with a progressive style of management or via a bottom line that more closely aligns his circuit with the PGA Tour.

Pelley explained to The Guardian last year his desire to challenge the status of the PGA Tour and the lucrative purses that set the standard in professional golf: “[The BMW PGA Championship] is €5 million [about $5.5 million]. The other event, in the U.S. that week, is $6.7 million,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. Wentworth needs to be $8 million - $10 million.”

Closing that cash gap depends largely on Pelley’s ability to convince sponsors his product is comparable to that in the United States on a more regular basis.

On just seven occasions last year the European Tour enjoyed a stronger field, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking, than the same week’s PGA Tour stop, starting with Abu Dhabi.

The European Tour had a higher total rating at the BMW PGA Championship (played opposite the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial), Irish Open (AT&T Byron Nelson Championship), Scottish Open (John Deere Classic) and the circuit’s final two playoff events (BMW Masters and DP World Tour Championship).

The point is, the European side rarely enjoys center stage – one could argue the Continent is the main attraction every four years at the Ryder Cup as well, but that’s a column for another day – and Pelley has made it a point to give his tour more chances to compete.

Those calling the shots in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., have noticed Pelley’s outside-the-box approach, starting with his move to allow players to wear shorts.

“They asked where we were going with it,” European Tour chief rules official John Paramor said in Abu Dhabi.

Pelley has also broken with the PGA Tour when it comes to player fines, which in the U.S. are strictly confidential with the exception of violations of the circuit’s policy regarding performance-enhancing drugs.

“We have nothing to hide,” Pelley said. “It is not only a penalty from a monetary perspective, you won’t want to see, and your peers won’t want to see someone be fined. Nobody likes to be highlighted for slow play and I think this is a deterrent for that.”

The European circuit has another chance to take the spotlight from the PGA Tour this week with the Dubai Desert Classic, which will include world No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 6 Henrik Stenson. Last year, the Waste Management Phoenix Open narrowly clipped Dubai in the world ranking math, 394 total points to 330.

Despite the differences and divergent paths taken by each tour, it’s probably not an all-out turf war that concerns PGA Tour officials – the circuit is far too entrenched for that –as much as it is the emerging perception that Pelley and Co. are becoming the game’s trendsetters.

Getty Images

Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

Getty Images

Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

Getty Images

Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

Getty Images

Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.