DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Shaking the desert sand from their golf shoes and shielding their eyes from a mercilessly fierce sun, competitors in the DP World Tour Championship concluded Sunday with the tour’s 43rd and last tournament of the 2021-22 season. If eyes turned forward to a new season, one with a Ryder Cup in it, they also took a backward glance and perhaps a shudder at what has been the most tumultuous 12 months the old game has ever seen. Wherever you were in golf these past months, from San Francisco to Singapore, Manchester to Malta, LIV Golf has been like oxygen, always present, prompting talk of a civil war in the game. Not since the days of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, have Roman numerals been mentioned so often by so many about so few.
Here is one assessment of the season just ended. “The most extraordinary of my time,” said Alastair Scott, the announcer on the first tee at tournaments. Scott should know. His memories go back nearly 60 years, to when he was a BBC cameraman at the 1966 Open at Muirfield. “It has been a year of turmoil for professional golf,” said Paul McGinley, the TV analyst and DP World Tour board member. “There have been seismic changes in the game, whether you are part of the PGA Tour or the European Tour. Golf is changed for ever. The Tour being sued by the players is never a good thing, is it?”
A high point? Rory McIlroy’s exuberance after holing out from a bunker for a birdie on the 72nd hole of the Masters and a round of 64. He finished second, his highest ever at Augusta National. What would he give to go one place better next April and become the sixth man to have won all four major championships, after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods?
Whether the LIV players are allowed to compete on the DP World Tour or not, the tour undoubtedly will be affected.
McIlroy’s stellar play at Augusta and later in the year was matched by a self-confidence that visibly grew almost by the week as he spoke out against the plunderings of some of the game’s best players by LIV Golf and its CEO, Greg Norman. It says much for the thoughtful, quietly-spoken McIlroy that he, the No. 1 player in the world, is one of the best people in his sport and has become universally accepted as a spokesman for those who desire the status quo of golf to remain.
Another high point? The extra funds that the DP World Tour has gained by virtue of selling a share of European Tour Productions to the PGA Tour, some of which will be dispensed directly to the players. Next year, every player with full status on the DP World Tour will have access to $150,000 at the start of the new season. It can be taken in advance or as the season goes on and will allow players to plan their schedule more thoughtfully. “It is not a gift, but it gives them money when they most need it,” McGinley said.
The new-look Golf for the Disabled tour organised by the DP World Tour, an excellent initiative of Keith Pelley, the DP World Tour’s chief executive, also ended in Dubai. The G4D Tour was composed of seven events this year, and there will be nine next year, perhaps one in the U.S. “They are playing the same course,” McGinley said. “They are in the locker rooms, the players’ lounges, on the driving range, the putting green. They have the same access as any player playing in this tournament, and treated exactly the same: courtesy cars, hotel rooms, all the stuff the players have.”
Behind the scenes there has been much activity by Ryder Cup Europe to learn the lessons from Europe’s defeat in 2021 at Whistling Straits. The aim? To prevent another loss to the U.S. An impressively qualified advisory subcommittee composed of McGinley, the victorious Europe captain in 2014, Damon Buffini, one of the U.K.’s leading businessmen and chairman of the National Theatre, Richard Scudamore, formerly chief executive and chairman of the Premier League, England’s successful soccer organisation, and Ian Ritchie formerly chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which runs the Wimbledon tournament, and of the Rugby Football Union, has been set up to meet every five or six weeks to bring their considerable business knowledge to help Europe attain a victory at Marco Simone GC near Rome next September.
Furthermore, McGinley and José María Olazábal, two of the most successful and thoughtful recent Ryder Cup captains, will be present in January 2023 at the Hero Cup, begun at the request of Luke Donald, the Europe captain in Rome, to help men like Séamus Power and Robert MacIntyre learn quickly about match play. Tommy Fleetwood will captain GB&I’s 10-man team and Francesco Molinari the continent of Europe’s. “It will be like a Ryder Cup boot camp,” McGinley said.
In Dubai last Wednesday, Donald hosted a dinner for seven of the most likely members of his team: McIlroy, Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton. “Our core group is really strong,” McIlroy said. “And obviously it’s home-field advantage in terms of the golf course and maybe us knowing it a bit better than the American team. It is going to be great. I am very bullish about it.”
The season just ended also marked the end of David Williams’ nine-year term as chairman of the board of the DP World Tour. “David chaired meetings very well,” McGinley said. “He was strict about sticking to the agenda. He was always for collaborative thinking. Everyone was invited to give an opinion. He was good at wrapping up the points, making sure they were minuted and moving on.”
Said Williams, also chairman of Natures Way, a food provider to many of the country’s supermarkets: “I am most proud of the successful change we have implemented throughout the tour, its change of management, change of governance, change of results, change of cash flow. In other words, all the things that make a business a better business.” One result is a turnaround in the tour’s finances. “We are financially stronger than we have ever been,” McGinley said. “I believe that with all my heart.”
Just as well because the court case LIV players are bringing against the DP World Tour is to be heard in February in the U.K. before Sport Resolutions, an independent, resolutions service. Whether the LIV players are allowed to compete on the DP World Tour or not, the tour undoubtedly will be affected. Indeed, it is already as it digs deep into its coffers preparing its defence against the Saudi-funded rival tour. Financially, at least, it’s David versus Goliath.
The atmosphere in the game is unlike anything I have known in a half century of writing about the sport. How that atmosphere changes and what happens next year is a matter of conjecture. There seems little hope at the moment of talks between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. “They’ve sued us,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said recently.
Late Sunday night, after dusk had stolen up as quietly as the movements of a cat, the flagsticks on the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates were collected for safekeeping and the grandstands, so full and so noisy hours earlier, had emptied of spectators. Players made their way to the airport, many heading home for a break to rest and then prepare for 2023. One season had ended, the most remarkable ever; another was about to begin. Who knows what lies ahead?