European Tour: Pelley promises prize money and 'players first'

Keith Pelley, European Tour chief, hitting a golf shot
Pelley promises a "significantly different" Tour, with more prize money a top priority

A whirlwind is blowing through the European Tour in the shape of its new boss Keith Pelley.

The 51-year-old Canadian has been in charge for three months since succeeding George O'Grady and is intent on radical changes, with the aim of making the tour a "viable alternative to the PGA Tour".

Pelley spoke at length publicly for the first time before the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, his energy and ambition more than evident as he addressed the assembled media.

He was forthright too, raising eyebrows when he conceded that May's BMW PGA Championship should not be regarded as the tour's "flagship" event.

The tournament, at the European Tour's Wentworth home, has been marketed as such for several years but Pelley emphatically put paid to that with an extraordinary assessment of its stature.

"A lot of people talk about Wentworth as being a flagship event," he said. "Wentworth [prize money] is 5.1m euros (£3.5m). The other event in the US that week is 6.1m.

"That's unacceptable. Wentworth needs to be eight to 10 million dollars (£5.2m to £6.5m)."

BMW PGA Championship
Pelley does not think that May's BMW PGA Championship can currently be regarded as a "flagship" event

Pelley also raised concerns about the state of Wentworth's West Course in spring when the tournament is held. The new owners are planning a major overhaul and the Tour chief executive is looking for a telling upgrade.

"I don't see it as our flagship event," he said. "The greens became a critical issue last year. In 2017 there is a detailed plan to significantly improve that.

"We are continuing at Wentworth until at least 2018 and expect if the West Course becomes exactly what they believe it can, then we can increase the prize purse.

"Then perhaps it can be a flagship event."

The tournament gains additional world ranking points because of its current designation as the tour's biggest event, but it is increased funding that is Pelley's priority.

"We have no choice but to work hard to raise our prize purses to provide a viable alternative, for all our players, to the PGA Tour," he told BBC Sport.

The PGA Tour flag
The US PGA Tour events offer much higher prize purses than the European Tour

"This means our elite, medium- and low-ranked players. We are trying to provide a great option for them.

"There's obviously a lot of migration to America and all we want to do is provide a suitable option for those players before they go to America.

"Right now that doesn't exist because our prize purses aren't high enough, so we are going to have to significantly increase them over the coming years."

Pelley is not put off by uncertainty in European economic markets, highlighting the global appeal of his organisation.

"We are a world economy," he said. "We are a world tour, when you think about it. We are in 27 countries and four regions of the world.

"The ability for us to attract global players based on the global nature of our tour is a significant advantage for us."

Pelley's decision to rewrite membership rules should ensure big name Europeans stay with the circuit, which also keeps them eligible to play in the Ryder Cup.

He has done this by reducing the number of counting events from 13 to five, effectively removing the four majors and four World Golf Championships events from the required schedule.

Ian Poulter
Reducing the number of counting events from 13 to five will prevent incidents like Ian Poulter having to make a last-minute dash to the Hong Kong Open in October to gain enough points to retain his membership

This helps the likes of Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell who have slipped out of the world's top 50. They would be struggling to play the previously stipulated 13 tournaments if they are ineligible for the majors and WGCs.

"It's the status quo except for those who have dropped out of the top 50," Pelley explained. "This makes it easier for them to maintain European Tour membership and I think that's a fair thing for us to do and in the best interests of the tour."

It is a common sense move, as is his stated desire to tackle slow play - the scourge of the modern game. "That's what the players have said and that's what the fans have said," he added.

"Through all of our stakeholder conversations with partners and rights holders, slow play is a critical component and one that needs to be addressed.

"We are going to take a leadership role in actually working very closely with the R&A in dealing with this problem."

These are all very welcome messages from a figure who seems to have potential to shake up the game. Innovative tournament formats are under consideration and pre-tournament pro-am events are likely to be reshaped.

"We are going to be different, no question," Pelley said, as he described what he calls a "players-first philosophy".

Of course, it is one thing to make such statements. He will ultimately be judged on delivery.

But Pelley's forthright and confident messages suggest he is ready for such scrutiny while accepting his influence will take time to be fully felt.

So by 2018 how changed will the European Tour feel? Pelley paused before answering: "Eight out of ten."

Meaning?

"It'll be significantly different."

Hold on to your hats.