If nothing else, it’s an appropriate venue. About five months before Marco Simone Country Club just outside Rome hosts the 44th Ryder Cup, the venue for this week’s Italian Open is doubling as the site of the latest meeting of the DP World Tour’s tournament committee. Led by the chairman, former Ryder Cup player and past Australian PGA champion David Howell, there’s a lot for the various members to talk about, much of it contentious in nature.
High on the agenda will be the official reaction of the player representatives to the result of the UK arbitration process that allows the Old World circuit to punish those members – the likes of Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood – who made the jump to the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf League. DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley has already gone public with his view that the rebels should not be banned from what was formerly their home tour. But his is only one of a variety of views on that controversial subject.
Four-time DP World Tour winner Dave Horsey recently took to Twitter to articulate the attitude of more than a few of his fellow professionals towards the breakaways. “I have no issue with players choosing to go play LIV,” wrote the 38-year old Englishman. “But I do have an issue with the deformation and disrespecting of the tours and players that gave them a platform to create their brand in the first place. And then think it’s fine to just come back and play when it suits.”
Predictably, Westwood – a regular on Twitter – was quick to respond: “I’ve been a member for 30 years, Dave, and I can’t remember a time when the top European players didn’t go and play another tour and then come back and pick and choose from the big DP World Tour events.”
While that disagreement will surely take up a significant percentage of the committee’s time, it will be far from the only topic that garners intense conversation. The ongoing trans-Atlantic relationship between the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour – the self-described “strategic alliance” – is another obvious talking point. While there are plenty of players who see the advantages of such a coming-together, not least the fact that the top 10 players not already owning PGA Tour cards on this year’s Race to Dubai will gain access to the game’s most lucrative circuit in 2024, a degree of cynicism also exists across the pond.
Why, ask some players with a degree of justification, were there no DP World Tour tournaments on the PGA Tour’s list of designated events? That absence, argue many, did not point to an alliance between the two circuits but more a dictum from Ponte Vedra Beach. Why, goes the argument, was no place found for the likes of the Dubai Desert Classic, the Scottish Open or the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth?
Still, where there is no doubt is that, as will be the case on the PGA Tour, the 2024 DP World Tour schedule – to be announced at the Scottish Open in July – will be much-changed from the recent past. While it would come as something of surprise to see the complete demise of the so-called “Middle East Swing” that kicks off the calendar year, it is a racing certainty that, with the exception of a couple of events between the US Open and Open Championship, most of the biggest tournaments will inevitably have to take place after the Tour Championship that is the climax to the PGA Tour season in August.
Such a scenario, of course, is good news and bad news for Pelley. While it makes perfect sense for the leading Americans, and the likes of Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy, to support the co-sanctioned Scottish Open in the week prior to the Open Championship in July, getting all of the above to make their way to London in September is another thing entirely. Not too long after the end of the PGA Tour season, many will surely be looking to rest.
Mind you, the absence of the very best will not be something the DP World Tour’s rank-and-file will mourn, seeing as their playing opportunities in the biggest events diminish should the big-name Americans appear in the most prominent events. A constant diet of run-of-the-mill DP World events is hardly the most attractive proposition, even if the purses have been boosted by the injection of PGA Tour cash.
All of which is again what will be part of this week’s tournament committee agenda. And all of which will equally have been testing Pelley’s persuasive talents. Since making a swift exit from Augusta after the opening round of the Masters in the immediate wake of the arbitration decision, Pelley has popped up on a couple of podcasts to give at least a few hints, subtle and otherwise, about his future plans.
By way of example, Pelley is clearly reacting to pressure from his members when it comes to the allocation of Official World Golf Ranking points. As things stand, it is hard to imagine anyone on the DP World Tour playing well enough to make his way into the top 50 and so into at least three of the four men’s Majors. As things stand, there are only 10 European players among that privileged group. Nine play close to full-time on the PGA Tour, LIV player Thomas Pieters the only exception.
“With a new system there is always challenges,” Pelley recently told the No Laying Up podcast. “As a result, we are looking at some modification level that would help.”
On the other hand, that is a situation mitigated somewhat by the aforementioned pathway for the top-10 non-PGA Tour cardholders, one that, by the way, many see as a self-inflicted “talent drain” that will, in the long term, do the DP World Tour no favours.
Whatever, this week in Italy, there’s going to be a whole lot of talking going on.