Thomas Bjorn insists that the European and Asian Tours will not be treading on the memory of the late Seve Ballesteros by ignoring his pleas and staging the inaugural Eurasia Cup in Malaysia next month.
The event has drawn the ire of the Ballestros family and the organisers of the rival Royal Trophy, who feel that the Asian and European Tours have stolen their idea and copied the format.
Ballesteros wanted the Royal Trophy to be his legacy according to a May 2010 letter the five-time major winner wrote to the Asian Tour’s Executive Chairman Kyi Hla Han, a year before his death from brain cancer.
The Spanish legend urged the Asian Tour not to copy the Royal Trophy format "as the event had a very special place in his heart", the Royal Trophy claimed in an email today.
One extract ran:
“The Royal Trophy is extremely important and personal to me. It is an event which has a very special place in my heart. The Royal Trophy is a legacy of mine that I passionately desire to leave for future generations."
Little more than three years later, the Asian Tour announced plans to stage the inaugural Eurasia Cup, which is sanctioned by the European Tour and the Asian Tour, who are bitter rivals of the OneAsia Tour, who sanction the Royal Trophy.
But Bjorn, the Chairman of the European Tour's Tournament Players Committee, believes it's crucial that the European Tour exploits the Asian market and denied suggestions that sanctioning the Eurasia Cup is disrespectful of Ballesteros' legacy.
"We've got to look what’s best for the tours," Bjorn said at PGA National ahead of this week's Honda Classic. "It’s a priority for us to build up a relationship with the Asian Tour because there are times of the year when we can’t play Europe.
"I think this event is a good thing. We’re already playing very much second fiddle to the PGA Tour and if we don’t grow the tour with Asia and South Africa we’re going to struggle against the Web.com tour, and that’s not a position we’re willing to consider.
"The last person you want to step on is Seve, his legacy, whether you’re a player or a tour, but just because he said it doesn’t make it right. The Tours have to sit down and say: is there value in this event…if they see that, then it is the right thing to do."
The Eurasia Cup replaces the Seve Trophy, which has struggled to attract the top players in recent years.
"Players who have competed in the Seve Tropy have shown they want to uphold his legacy but we’ve had a hard time getting a date that suits everybody…..top players we’ve seen what Seve meant to them at the Ryder Cup.
"There comes a time when you have to say: what’s right for the tour? Seve had his opinion but I don’t think the tours are doing anything wrong. They would want to have his name involved in something that we stand for and I think we saw that at the Ryder Cup. Every captain invokes Seve’s name.
"The tour has to ask at times, how do we develop our bonds, doing a team event like this, does it make them stronger….if so, then it is the right thing to do."
Huge appearance fees are being paid to get the top Europeans to play in the Eurasia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM with captains Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thongchai Jaidee heading the 10-man teams.
On Monday, playing captain Jimenez chose young guns Pablo Larrazábal and Thorbjorn Olesen to join Thomas Björn, Jamie Donaldson, Victor Dubuisson, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, Stephen Gallacher, Joost Luiten and poster boy Graeme McDowell in the side to face Asian at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur from March 27-29.
Bjorn agreed that the Ballesteros' letter puts players in an awkward position.
"It does, but just because you’ve been a great player doesn’t mean you’re right about how the game should go forward.
"We don’t need a battle of words between tours and Seve’s family, it’s a shame it has come to this. There was a way of taking this forward together but it seems like that is not going to happen.
"You don’t want to go there feeling you’re stepping on his legacy, and particularly if you’re my age and know his importance.
"But maybe this is the way to go forward with our young players, this is the idea."
In his letter to Han, Ballesteros saud “… I am personally writing this letter to you because of the status of the event that my team and I have been working on since 2001. … a team match play continental championship where Europe would compete against Asia; the Royal Trophy – Europe vs Asia Golf Championship.
“The Royal Trophy is extremely important and personal to me. It is an event which has a very special place in my heart. The Royal Trophy is a legacy of mine that I passionately desire to leave for future generations.
“… we have been informed by the European Tour that the Asian Tour is interested in developing … an event in this very same format. I was very disappointed to hear this news as I could not have imagined that the Asian Tour, or the European Tour, would be planning to take advantage of all the goodwill and value we have created in the Royal Trophy, copy it and take it as its own. This would … certainly not meet the standards of morality and fairness which are the trademark of our sport.
“Such actions would be even more disappointing to me and damaging to golf as a result of such unfairness being conducted by, or with the consent of, the Executive Chairman of the Asian Tour … We are all very well aware of the important role we play in our great sport as role models and of the highest standard of morality and fair play that is expected of us.
“It has taken a lot of time and a lot of hard work to create such a wonderful competition and I sincerely hope that the news I have received from the European Tour are a misunderstanding and that the Asian Tour will be willing to join us in the Royal Trophy on mutually acceptable terms but will not be intending to copy it …”
In September 2013, the European and Asian Tours announced the Eurasia Cup as a new team match play continental championship between Europe and Asia.
According to the Royal Trophy press release today: "In statements issued by the Tours and clearly contrary to Seve Ballesteros’ plea, it was expressed that the Eurasia Cup counted with support of the Ballesteros family and that Seve would have cherished the establishment of the new event.
“I have requested an official and proper apology and retraction from the European Tour on these very damaging and insensitive comments they have made. Unfortunately they have not been forthcoming,” said Seve Ballesteros’former manager Ivan Ballesteros.
“I cannot believe that the European and Asian Tours would treat Seve like this. The European and Asian Tours are acting completely contrary to what Seve very passionately asked them for before his death. If Seve was still here with us, this would not be happening,” concluded Ivan Ballesteros.
Since the announcement of the Eurasia Cup, scheduled to be played for the first time on 27-29 March 2014 at the DRB-HICOM-owned Glenmarie Golf & Country Club in Malaysia, the event has faced opposition from numerous parties including José María Olazábal, members of the Ballesteros family and Royal Trophy sanctioning bodies Japan Golf Tour and China Golf Association.
The eighth edition of the Royal Trophy will be held on 19-21 December 2014 at the Dragon Lake Golf Club in Guangzhou, China. The European Team currently holds stewardship of the sixteen-kilogram solid-silver Royal Trophy following a dramatic 8 ½ - 7 ½ victory in December 2013.