Tour reluctant to boost European fields at gunpoint, says McGinley

Paul McGinleyPaul McGinley in action in the first round of the Portugal Masters. Picture: Eoin Clarke

Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will travel from the US Open to Carton House for the Irish Open next year after a high powered meeting of the Players’ Committee met on Wednesday night to discuss ways of boosting weak fields in the European Tour’s hour of need.

As we revealed here earlier this week, the Irish Open will swap dates with the BMW International Open in Munich and take place the week after the season’s second major to allow McIlroy and McDowell time to rest before they begin the build up to the Open at the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen a fortnight later.

However, while the European Tour has been mulling over the possibility of bringing in a rule obliging Europe’s biggest stars to play their national opens, Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley insisted they are reluctant to force players to tee it up at the point of a gun.

“There is talk about trying to put pressure on guys to play their home event, whatever country they come from,” McGinley said. “For example, what would the Irish Open be without Rory? It is a success every year because Rory plays and it was a success when Padraig Harrington played when he was the top Irish player.  We benefitted from that.

“We’ve to see if it’s going to be written into the rulebook. Nobody likes to bring brinkmanship to anyone.”

Instead, European Tour CEO George O’Grady will continue to negotiate personally with the top players themselves, seeking guarantees that they will support their home events or, failing that, add other European Tour events to their schedules at a time when sponsors are becoming frustrated by weak fields.

“Obviously, we wouldn’t cut him off but there would be some kind of a barter which would lead to him playing some other events,” McGinley said of any hypothetical temptation on the part of McIlroy or any other Ryder Cup star to skip their national open. “That’s the job of the Chief Executive, George O’Grady, to deal with all this, negotiate with players and ask them what their plans are and barter with them.”

McIlroy has already indicated that he will be at Carton House’s O’Meara Course next year, though the venue has yet to be officially confirmed in case a new sponsor is found and the venue turns out to be unsuitable for their needs. 

He’s also added the Dubai Desert Classic and the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open to his 2014 schedule, which McGinley regards as proof that O’Grady’s approach is working.

“Scotland is really going to benefit next year because Phil won and went on the win the Open,” he said.

As for the state of the European Tour, McGinley added: “The prevailing mood is we are kind of riding the storm at the moment and are doing well to keep our head above water, the Americans too.

“We still have a lot of tournaments to play. I know it’s not ideal and we’ve lost tournaments. Things are not ideal and a lot of the top players are in America but we’re still producing upwards of 40 tournaments a year.

“We’ll ride through this. The recession has hit us hard‚ it has hit Portugal, Spain, France and it has hit Ireland. It has hit everywhere. We’ve just got to ride out the storm until the economy comes round again. That’s why the support of those top guys is important.”

The future of the Seve Trophy dominated the agenda at wednesday’s meeting in Portugal and McGinley made it clear that he believes it’s crucial that the event survives and finds a sponsor.

“It’s just fingers crossed,” he said. “For me as Ryder Cup captain it was a huge benefit and this is not just spin. The fact the top players were not there gave me a little bit more of a benefit. Obviously, we’d want them there and there’s no point in saying otherwise but I’ve got to see a lot of guys and some have come in under the radar because they had an opportunity to play.

“Gregory Bourdy being one, he was five out of five and all of a sudden he’s on the radar and good luck to him. A number of other guys performed well too and I don’t like singling out anybody but for me as a learning curve it was massive.

“I know in terms of sponsors and the event, it’s disappointing the top players weren’t there but that’s not my issue. I kind of deal with the cards I’m dealt and I see a lot of positives out of the guys who got a chance.

“Should Gregory make the team next year, because I’ve had dinner with him, met his girlfriend and got to know him a little bit, watched him on the golf course, saw how he moulded with his partner and I got a de-brief from Olly, should Gregory Bourdy make the team I’m going to hit the ground running with him. Whereas if we didn’t have the Seve Trophy I wouldn’t be able to hit the ground running if a Gregory Bourdy came out of nowhere and that’s the benefit of it.”

The reality is that the event will die a death if a sponsor is not found and that requires the presence of some of the bigger names or a merger with the newly created EurAsia Cup.

“No, it can’t attract sponsors if we don’t have the top players playing,” McGinley conceded. “Even if we got some of the guys committed and they sort of shared the load over the Seve Trophys.

“The last time it was pretty good for me when I was captain because I had Darren, who was Open Champion, I had Lee Westwood and I had Ian Poulter. Mix in the younger guys with that and now it’s a pretty good dyrnamic and a great tournament too,

“If there was some way of sharing the load of the top guys. They can’t always be available, maybe that’s a solution, I don’t know.

“It probably was the biggest issue we talked about. The Seve Trophy and the EurAsia Cup‚ if we can’t get a sponsor for the Seve Trophy, the Asians have a lot of money and maybe it’d be a case of the two melding. But ideally, if there’s an opportunity for both to keep going, it’d be great.

“I know the Seve Trophy would be a huge success at somewhere like Woburn last week. There’d have been massive crowds and people love to come and see. Woburn would have been a great venue for it, Scandinavia maybe.

“The view very strongly is we have to keep this tournament going if we can, we have to try and find a way of it going forward for the benefit of future Ryder Cup captains. There were guys were there last week who may not have played fourball and foursomes since they were amateurs, which may be five or six years ago, maybe longer.

“From watching them, observing them, having dinner with them. Same with the caddies, I took them out for dinner one evening. It wasn’t ideal not to have the top players there but for me it was a hugely valuable exercise and one I’d hope all future Ryder Cup captains will be able to have.”

The tournament committee has also conceded that it made a mistake by changing its rules to allow affiliate members who will not play the requisite 13 events to remain in the money list. With just 110 cards on offer compared to 115 in years past, several European Tour stalwarts, such as Dubliner Peter Lawrie, could be left without full playing rights by the likes of Tim Clark, who has ony played three events this year.

There is a temptation to find out which of the affiliate players are going to commit to the European Tour in 2014 and all them to remain in the money list. Legally, they can’t do that this year and extend the magic number for tour salvation from 110th to 114th or 115th, for example.

“We can’t change it so the guys who are outside the top 110 this week can have clarity of mind that it will remain at 110,” McGinley said.