Will PGA & European Tour merger dream become reality?

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Rory McIlroy and Tim Finchem
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem wants the leading tours to combine, which would prevent two separate tours competing to attract the same talent

The list of names adorning the leaderboard was typically cosmopolitan when Australia's Adam Scott clinched back-to-back titles with victory at the World Golf Championships event at Doral near Miami.

It provided another reminder of golf's global nature and came just as one of the sport's most influential figures made a significant call for a unified world circuit.

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem wants the leading tours to come together as one. It suggests an intensifying of the current power struggle at the top of the game.

Finchem was speaking as Scott edged home ahead of American Bubba Watson, Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Englishman Danny Willett last Sunday.

It was one of those leaderboards that begged the question of why American venues dominate the WGC tournaments? Only November's HSBC Champions event in China is played outside the borders of the US.

Surely these tournaments (Doral, WGC Matchplay and usually WGC Invitational), with their increasingly international fields, should do what they say on the tin?

If they are World Golf Championships they should be taken around the globe and not be an almost exclusively American preserve.

"We are constantly looking at ways to grow the World Golf Championships," Finchem told BBC Sport. "Certainly the addition of Shanghai has been a huge success."

Jordan Spieth performs on stage with two Chinese dragons during a photocall for the Champions Tour in Shanghai
Finchem is trying to grow the World Golf Championships by taking them round the world and has been happy with the success of November's event in Shanghai

The stumbling block remains finding backers with pockets deep enough to cover winner's cheques of $1.62m stretching down to the $45,000 paid to the 37-over-par backmarker Steven Bowditch despite his four rounds in 80s.

Finchem, therefore, reasons that American venues have to continue to dominate. "The sponsorship structure, the way it is, would probably lead us to stay the course for a bit," he said.

More significantly he stated his desire to bring together the leading tours under a lone umbrella. Not just WGC's but the entire sport run by a consolidated body.

"What's in the paramount best interest of men's and women's professional golf is coming under one unified organisation with a genuine global brand, and be able to compete on a global level in the global markets, much like soccer," he said

"There aren't that many sports that are as in-depth active on virtually every continent as golf. And that's the reason why the IOC (International Olympic Committee) wanted us as part of the Olympics.

"So I think we should be taking advantage of that."

Finchem is clearly putting the idea back on the table.

"Sooner or later, I think everybody is going to get on that road," he added. "And when they do, I think it is going to be a very positive thing for professional golf."

The timing may be coincidental, but it is hard to ignore the fact that this emphatic message has been restated early in the new European Tour regime led by Canadian Chief Executive Keith Pelley.

European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley
European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley withdrew European Tour support of July's Bridgestone Invitational event because it clashed with the French Open

The new boss at the Wentworth-based circuit has already shown he is not afraid to take on its big brother on the other side of the pond.

Pelley withdrew European Tour support of July's Bridgestone Invitational event, so stripping it of WGC status because it clashes with the French Open.

"It's unfortunate," Finchem admitted.

Amalgamation, as envisaged by the PGA Tour boss, would guarantee such clashes do not happen in the future.

The idea isn't brand new, but it is intriguing that Finchem has chosen to put it back in the public domain.

It first surfaced in 2013 after British newspaper reports suggested the American circuit was looking to launch a takeover of the European Tour. Those claims were quickly dismissed by both bodies.

Professional golf, however, has moved on significantly since then.

Pelley is currently trying to strengthen the European Tour by merging with their Asian counterparts. If that happens the global dynamics will change and, long term, by a potentially significant degree.

The Asian market is filled with possibilities and latent revenue streams. Finchem will be monitoring developments carefully.

He has also announced much closer ties between his organisation and the LPGA. This should strengthen the women's game and could bolster the appeal of the PGA Tour.

Donald Trump
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump owns 17 golf courses worldwide

Golf's inclusion in this year's Rio Olympics also shakes the game's tectonic plates. The leading tours are positioning themselves to make the most of what could become a significantly changed landscape.

First, though, the future of the WGC at the Donald Trump-owned Doral needs to be settled. The US presidential candidate's outspoken campaign comments seem to be less of an issue for the administrators.

As ever, money will be the deciding factor. Cadillac's title sponsorship is up for renewal and whoever puts up next year's prize fund will have the biggest say on where it is played.

The chances of it remaining at the same South Florida venue seem to be improving, given the PGA commissioner's diplomatic and pragmatic playing down of worries over Trump's contentious election rhetoric.

"We were concerned at one point because he referred to, quote, golf being supportive of some of the more controversial positions he has taken," Finchem admitted.

But he insisted the Trump relationship remains strong.

"We try to compartmentalise these things, but in terms of his focus on the game, on some of the facilities around the country and internationally, he brings a lot of energy to it.

"He's done a lot of good things."

The billionaire course owner agreed, with his own nod to pragmatism.

"My relationship is very good (with golf's governing bodies) and I'm also the front-runner," he told BBC Sport.

"You know being the front-runner, people like you more than they would if I was number 12."

Trump is involved in an escalating struggle for influence where golf is a mere bit part. Within the sport itself, though, the power games are also intensifying.


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