PGA Tour

Rory McIlroy thinks the PGA Tour has discussed a major change that could alter the landscape of professional golf


Rory McIlroyDrew
Hallowell/Getty

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.