home jobs contact us
Our Clients:
Browse by Sport
Find us on ASAP sports on Facebook ASAP sports on Twitter
ASAP Sports RSS Subscribe to RSS
Click to go to
ASAP Sports e-Brochure View our


January 18, 2017

Thomas Bjorn

Keith Pelley

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

SCOTT CROCKETT: Good morning, ladies and gentleman. Thank you for joining us on an important morning for The European Tour and The Ryder Cup.

Delighted to be joined at the top table by Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of The European Tour, and of course Thomas Björn, who is the European Ryder Cup Captain for 2018.

We have a bit of business with you this morning, but before we get to that, I'd like to invite Keith to say a few opening comments.

KEITH PELLEY: Great. Thank you, Scott. Thanks for coming on such short notice this morning. It is very much appreciated. I'm still getting used to the actual time zone, so it's incredibly early for me, as well.

Today we have a couple of things to discuss regarding European Tour and Ryder Cup membership criteria changes, following on a Tournament Committee meeting that we had last night. We received approval from our Tournament Committee to move forward with the changes, so we'll be going through that.

It's appropriate that we are discussing changes in front of an Abu Dhabi HSBC backdrop. HSBC has been a terrific supporter of golf and certainly a supporter of innovative changes. You witnessed that yesterday on the range. I just ran into a couple of players that said that they absolutely loved having the music on the range, and would that be something that would be common.

I said that we are going to definitely have music on the range at the BMW PGA Championship this year, and then it will become commonplace. So in a couple years, I do believe that music on the range will be something that will be synonymous with golf, and the range I think provides a wonderful opportunity for our fans to get closer to our players.

So it's nice to be here at the Abu Dhabi HSBC championship, and I applaud them for their innovative thinking.

Many things were discussed last night at our Tournament Committee. First and foremost, Thomas stood down as the chairman of the Tournament Committee after ten years serving in that post. I have only been as the Chief Executive of The European Tour for just over 15 months now, and it has been an absolute pleasure, and he has really helped me along. So I wanted to thank him personally.

But on behalf of the entire European Tour and everybody that's on the Tournament Committee, his commitment, his unwavering passion for the Tour; and this is certainly something that he has taken on, and he's taken on in Thomas's form at 100 per cent. And we very much appreciate all of the support that Thomas has given to the Tournament Committee over the last ten years.

Obviously with the recent appointment of Ryder Cup Captain in 2018, we felt it was a good time, and Thomas did, to step down after ten years.

Yesterday it was announced that David Howell will take over as the Tournament Chair. That was unanimously approved and that is effective immediately.

Again I wanted to thank Thomas for the support that you've given me in my short tenure, but more importantly, for the work and tireless and unwavering commitment that you've given to the Tour for the last ten years and all its members. So thank you very much.

We started by saying that we were going to announce a couple of changes to the membership criteria for both The Ryder Cup and The European Tour. This, again, was passed unanimously by the committee. It is something that since Thomas was announced captain in early December, we got together shortly there after and started talking about changes and what would be the best for The Ryder Cup and what would be the best for The European Tour.

Those conversations went well into the first couple weeks of January, and there were multiple of them. We had solicited information during what I called an evaluation stage from a number of our members, a number of our stakeholders, as well as from our board, who obviously have a wealth of experience in Ryder Cup.

So we feel that what we are presenting to you today is an incredibly well-thought-out plan that reaches our two objectives, which is, one, to have the best possible team represent Europe in the 2018 Ryder Cup; while at the same time, that the changes that we have made today allow us for what I believe is a significant growth period for The European Tour.

And those were the two objectives that we had come out after our discussions in early January, and then formed what you're going to hear today.

So I will take you through a couple of the membership changes, a couple of other changes after, but right now, I'm going to pass it over to Thomas to specifically talk about changes that will be made to the 2018 qualification.

THOMAS BJÖRN: Thank you, Keith.

Obviously after doing ten years as chairman, it was obviously, had to go a little bit of thought into how I wanted to do this. I've worked with four captains in my time on the Tournament Committee, and there's been a lot of discussions about what the captain wanted, for changes, for all of those.

When I went into this, I was still chairman of the Tournament Committee. I was still representing the players on Tour, and at the same time, I had a job to get the best team possible. It was a natural step for me to step down. I think that as chairman, there's too many conflicts there.

Thinking about it, I thought, well, I have to do what I've always done, is to look at the Tour, but also look at the team and try and see if we could create a situation that was a win/win for both.

I have here in front of me three things that has been approved by the Tournament Committee that are changes for the 2018 Ryder Cup Team, and the first one is that the qualification points will up till the BMW Championship count one point for one point, but from the BMW Championship to the end of qualification, one point will equal 1 1/2 points. In discussions with previous captains, with players, and what I've seen over the years, I strongly believe that in-form players are the one thing that wins The Ryder Cups.

So it was a way of having a chase at the end and giving players that plays really well over the summer coming into The Ryder Cup, a better chance of qualifying for the team, and I believe they stand much better going into The Ryder Cup.

When you look at that period of time, it looks like it's going to be five Rolex Series events in that period of time from Wentworth, and there's going to be three major championships in there, as well.

So there's obviously going to be a lot of points available, but I believe that those players that play well in that stretch are also the players that are going to strengthen the team and make sure that we can try and win the trophy back.

The other point that was made, and this is kind of -- these two next points kind of go hand-in-hand. The first point is, that there will be no Ryder Cup qualification points available for events staged worldwide across from the Rolex Series events.

Now, as Ryder Cup Captain, you will think, Hmmm, maybe not. But as Tournament Chairman, it was very important for me to know that the Tour is going through a massive change, and that we want the Rolex Series events to be a success. The counteract for this, if it protects in any way in the team, was that we changed the list: We are four off the European list and four off the world list and four off the captain's picks. My feeling was I could counteract a player doing well somewhere else in the world by having an extra pick.

So I feel with these changes to the 2018 team, I feel like I can get the best team possible, and as Ryder Cup Captain, that's my job. But I was also very well aware in this whole process, that I had to look at what changes the Tour is going through, how important The Ryder Cup is for The European Tour.

And I think when we left the room yesterday, we had a happy Chief Executive leaving the room, and we had a happy Ryder Cup Captain leaving the room, and I think that was probably from the outset the important thing. I'm confident that we're going to have the 12 best European players representing use in France, and that's the one thing that's important for me.

So that's pretty much what I have to say on these three points. They will look like big changes. I think they are just changes that are moving with the times. We've got more and more players seeking to play worldwide, and in long discussions with, especially Paul McGinley, he felt that the system he had for Gleneagles was the right system at the time. But he also felt that as the Tour has moved on and the world of golf has moved on; it was probably a little bit out of date and it needed small changes.

But that comes into being with the way the world of golf looks today. We have more and more players playing in dual memberships and we have to look at that going forward.

I believe that this is the system that presents us with the best possible chance of the best team.

SCOTT CROCKETT: Thank you, Thomas. As Keith said at the start there was three changes specific to the 2018 qualification process. But as Keith mentions there are changes to The European Tour and Ryder Cup in general.

Keith, perhaps maybe you can take us through those.

KEITH PELLEY: Sure. I think what's important is to understand that all of these in the remaining three points that I'm going to make reference to tie into Thomas's. So it's all completely intertwined. You can't handpick one. They were all done based on those two objectives that we had. But they all have definitely a relationship between them.

So the first one is in terms of The European Tour, starting in the 2018 season, the request and requirement for membership will be moved down from five to four.

This, again, provides a boost to The Ryder Cup, while at the same time recognises our global nature of our members and our tour. It helps our members plan their schedules effectively. Helps them continue to remain loyal to the Tour; while at the same time, perhaps encourages some of the other Top-50 players to join our wonderful tour as we are moving into a growth stage.

This was something that obviously was discussed at great length, but you, I believe, all know my philosophy and theory that we want as many people playing our tour because they want to play our tour, not because they are forced to play our tour.

This also goes hand-in-hand with what Thomas acknowledged in some of his points, but The Ryder Cup in general. This was a discussion, again, that required a lot of different days of discussing, but we felt at the end of it that a player must be a European Tour Member. That's important for the future. That was consistent with what our board, after a plethora of conversations with our Ryder Cup players over the last couple of months, they are totally on board with this concept. And the overriding feeling was you had to be a member to be a European Tour Member.

The final change was, if, in fact, if you do fall out of membership at any some point, or if you are eligible to be a member and you elect to not be a member, you can no longer qualify, ever, to be a Ryder Cup vice captain or captain.

So the changes that we have made we believe are very beneficial to The Ryder Cup, and very beneficial to our tour. Again, understanding that the objective was to provide Thomas with the ability to have the best team in 2018 representing Europe, while at the same time, capitalising on a potential opportunity and where we stand right now to grow The European Tour, and we believe this holistic plan achieves both those objectives.

SCOTT CROCKETT: Okay. Thank you very much, Keith. Thank you, Thomas. That's the wide-ranging plan that we wanted to announce. Now the floor is yours if you have any questions for our two top-table attendees.

Q. I believe that Rory had said publically that he felt that if you were a European, that was good enough to be in the team. How strong a feeling did you encounter that just being European was good enough to be in the team, rather than being a Member of The European Tour?
KEITH PELLEY: Well, the first time that we dealt with the criteria, or the first time that it was brought to my attention, was obviously after our result in Hazeltine. But having won eight of the last 11, there wasn't any reason to press the panic button.

However, Rory did then make some comments that was supported thereafter by Lee, and silently from some of the top players. And after that in Dubai, we had a series of meetings with groups of three players, including Rory, including Henrik, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson, all of them, Danny Willett. We brought them into groups of threes and spent a couple hours discussing The Ryder Cup criteria.

I think after that conversation, the understanding of the importance of membership was critical, but at the same time, the concept about having the best team in Europe play. And I think the combination of moving from five to four, and I think the fact that we have four picks, certainly addressed both of those.

And unfortunately, Rory is not here today, but I'm very comfortable with the fact that he emphatically supports this plan and believes that players should be in membership to play. So it was something that we discussed and it did trigger a discussion and whether there was going to be some type of quote, unquote, wild-card pick.

But once we got everybody involved in the same room, what was very interesting to me, and some of the players talked about it, is that chemistry is so important. Feeling that if you're a Member of The European Tour, you feel that kind of emotion and that ownership of it, and they thought that that was important. And what we tried to do was make it as easy as we possibly could for members to be a member of the Tour, and hence, The Ryder Cup.

Q. On the same theme, if you have a scenario, say, next year, where Paul Casey wins a major and sticks to his philosophy at the moment, how is that compatible with having the best team?
THOMAS BJÖRN: Obviously if you've got guys that are sitting right at the top and they are not members of the Tour and don't play in The Ryder Cup team, it creates a situation that's not great.

But I think you've got to have a whole picture and present it for the importance of what The Ryder Cup is as a team event, and the entity of just The Ryder Cup, and then what the Tour is.

Through this, I think when I look at it as a player, I go, well, you've got certain players that have a big demand on their schedules. Well, here you go. And they are all members. You know, they all understand the importance. If one person chooses not to play in The Ryder Cup, or not to play for a national football team, well, that's their right, and you can't argue against that if they go do it for whatever reasons they do. That doesn't lie. You'll always come across that in sports. People always have opinions.

We have presented something that we believe that every single player can live up to, and then it's up for the individual to make that choice. But if people chooses not to be a member, well, that's their right. I don't have -- there's no solution to that, no matter what scenario you create. I don't think there's a solution to that. And to say to people that you don't have to be members of The European Tour, you can do whatever you want, well, I think that's a very dangerous route for the Tour.

As I said in the beginning, I came -- I had to come from two places with this. I've been chairman for ten years, and I'm Ryder Cup Captain now. I had to look at what works for both. It would be very difficult for me to look myself in the mirror if I had just gone, all right, well, I've been over left and now I'm just here and I flip the hat and do everything over here that doesn't help the Tour. I mean, that would be hypocritical at best.

So I had to look at what makes it work. There's now been sent a signal to these guys that are not members: We want you in membership. We made it easy for you. Now the choice is with them to tell us if they want to or not. And if you can't play four tournaments on The European Tour to be a member of The Ryder Cup Team, well, then we'll have to see if, you know, if that will be changed for the future. But I don't believe that that's the right way of going.

KEITH PELLEY: I think it was -- you know, I would encourage you to talk to the likes of Pádraig Harrington or even Rory or Henrik now about the importance of being a member.

It was something that Thomas dismissed right from the beginning, and this was -- Thomas and I did not have discussions about The Ryder Cup criteria until January 3 at some restaurant in east London. But I had had a number of conversations with a number of our players well before that. But Thomas was right off the bat saying, no, you have to be a member.

And similar to that was a very, very strong feeling of the board. And once we got into the discussions with the top players, that, again, became something that they really felt strong about. And I think the changes that we have made certainly allow Thomas to have the best team, while at the same time benefit The European Tour. So I think it is a real win/win for us.

Q. Does the four-tournament requirement still exclude the World Golf Championships and the majors? And because of the Brexit vote, have you thought about the fact that you might need a different flag?
KEITH PELLEY: No, it still excludes the WGCs and the majors, the four does. And no, we think we are a rallying cry and will galvanise nations through our European Tour flag.

THOMAS BJÖRN: That was a good answer, that (laughter).

Q. Could you just explain the vice captain thing. I'm sure I've got this wrong, but you're saying that if anybody resigns membership of The European Tour, they can there after not become a vice captain.
KEITH PELLEY: That's correct. So for example if a player right now at age 33 is playing on both tours and plays in The Ryder Cup, and then decides for whatever reason that he is eligible to play on The European Tour; but he decides to just play on the PGA TOUR and gives up his membership, then he is no longer qualified to become a vice captain or a captain of The Ryder Cup Team.

And that was something that, again, you know, in the discussions, we felt very strong, and as I said, as we got into this, it was quite a learning experience for myself, because I understood after hearing all the players talk about the emotion and the chemistry and so forth; and that you had to want to be there. It's not just something that you can come in and come out of. You have to live it.

Just like you couldn't be the President of the United States if you're not an American citizen, we felt that it was important that not if you're just living in America; you have to have some ties to Europe. You have to actually embrace what's happening on The European Tour and you have to be conscious of the young players and what's coming up and developing relationships with them, and we felt that that was very important.

Q. Would you happen to know if the new points ratio from BMW onwards, if that had been in place, where are we -- last time, would that have got somebody like Alex Noren or Thomas Pieters into the team?
THOMAS BJÖRN: I kind of foresaw this question. The thing is, with the way that Rolex Series is now coming into play, which changes things quite dramatically because the prize money changes quite dramatically in that period of time.

It was looked at certain different scenarios and there's a lot of different multipliers talked about. One thing I will say is that from own experience, when you make all your points in November and December the year before, it can be quite daunting to play in The Ryder Cup when you haven't played particularly well for three or four months coming into it.

So that's from own experience, and also talking to captains, they felt like the guys that was close, if they could get over the line, it gave you more opportunities to wiggle a team through your captain's picks.

I don't really -- I mean, you can look at the stats and say, well, you know, Pieters, Knox, Wood, with one of those multipliers is we were dealing with, what we were toiling with, multiplying it with two and Peters and Knox would both have made the team on that, and Sullivan and Fitzpatrick would have fallen out. Now, if that was right or wrong, that's up for Darren to try and sort out.

But it was in the conversations, especially with Paul, but also with Darren and also to some extent with Ollie, that in-form players tend to perform better when it comes to it, and it's not so much what you have in the bag from two, three, or eight years ago. It's more how you're actually playing your golf coming into it.

I felt like with -- I saw an opportunity with the Rolex Series coming in, and having that many big events to kind of push that race right at the end and get people to play in Europe. And the guys that do well, they have a great opportunity to make the team by multiplying it, and you don't have guys that actually sit, one or two or three guys that sit and have made all their points in November and they are kind of pretty sure to make the team.

I want them to continue playing and still be pushed to play through the summer, be pushed to make the team, still playing good golf, and not just kind of go, oh, well, I made it, I don't have to really think about it, and then they come to The Ryder Cup and they are not in that kind of form that you want.

And also looking at the opposing side, you know, they have got a system in place that I think is probably better than they ever had and they are producing a lot of players that are very capable, and I think you have to counteract that with form. I think that's kind of where I'm coming from. I don't think you can at any time in sports take away from guys that are in form.

KEITH PELLEY: I think we ran -- being somewhat obsessed with data and analytics, we ran every possible spreadsheet on every possible scenario from the five to the fours to all of that throughout the entire tour.

So we definitely know every different scenario that would and wouldn't have happened.

Q. We've gone from 13 events to five events to four events; is there not a danger of cheapening The European Tour brand? You can see where the line in the graph is going, we have a three next and two and one, and then if you play a couple of rounds, you're a European Tour Member. Are you not looking at it, saying the brand is going downhill?
KEITH PELLEY: No, I totally do not see it that way in any way.

First and foremost, I think the 13, or however you counted the WGCs and the majors, was false counting. I couldn't figure that out. I understood why you did but it was actually detrimental to actual members that fell out of the Top-50.

And our members, and many of our members, are world-class players that play on both tours. There are a lot of restrictions put on them on the U.S. tour. But at the same time, the way that I look at this, moving from five to four, which I think is also, when you break it right down, you have to be very, very confident if you're only going to play four. Because if you only play four, and you finish out of the Top 60 if you're counting DP World as one of them, so the real number is more five.

And you know, staying intact is that you have to play your nation's tournament, or that's worth another two. So I don't see it at all like that. I see it that we are recognising now that we have global members. While at the same time, I think that this will encourage some of the other Top-50 players to consider playing on our tour with the emergence of the Rolex Series.

I see it totally the opposite.

Q. You must have had some feedback from rank-and-file members who probably said it should go up to six; you must have had.
THOMAS BJÖRN: Yeah, there was a lot of conversation going on. But I have to say, the Tournament Committee that's there today is probably the Tournament Committee that I've been on that represents, if you can allow them to call it, rank-and-file of the Tour the most. And this passed unanimously through them and they were very supportive of it and saw the business side of it.

One thing I will say, too. When we had three big events at the end of the season, The Final Series events, they played very much into the hands of the top players. Now with the Rolex Series created, there is some very big events throughout the season now on the Tour that every single member gets to play in, and that plays back to the rank-and-file, and the success of the Tour is very much on the success of these events.

So you've got to balance out as a tour: We have to have the success in the Rolex Series, and we get the success in the Rolex Series by having the best players playing, and by that, we present better and more tournaments to the rank-and-file members.

So it's a balance act. And they all saw the benefits that they get from us trying to make the Rolex Series a success, and at the same time, the vehicle for the Tour for many years has been The Ryder Cup. Well, we had to create a Ryder Cup Team that can be successful, and certainly present a team that has the best possible chance of winning.

It went through the Tournament Committee, not with -- yeah, more easily than I had expected, I have to say, and that's a great sign of how supportive the players on Tour are for what's trying to be done here.

KEITH PELLEY: Naturally, if, in fact, you're not living it day-by-day, you might come to that conclusion, and you might think that some players are saying, okay, now you have launched a Rolex Series, why don't you say that they are going to play six or seven. And play out that scenario over the next two or three years with some of the top players that are playing world tour events, and you get into a pretty bad situation.

I had asked early on -- as Keith Waters, who I see at the back of the room, saying, why do you force your players to play? I've never understood that. That's why I didn't understand the concept of counting the WGCs and majors as events.

However, having been through it, I totally respect the fact that you need to be in membership. I totally respect the fact that you have to play your own nation, your own event. But we felt that four was a number that we believe will attract the most top players to stay in membership, and as you know, there's been a couple this year that have fallen out of membership, and we believe that this will encourage them to come back to membership.

And the strength of the Rolex Series going forward is going to be the strength of field, and that is going to be critical. We believe that this decision will help that.

So I think it's an incredibly positive move for the Tour, while at the same time, it's a real strong move for The Ryder Cup, as well.

Q. Regarding the four events, is there any stipulation, can it be any four events, or does one of them have to be a Rolex Series event, or does one of them have to be like a Dutch Open or something like that?
KEITH PELLEY: No. There's been a lot of discussion about that is now that should we make sure that you rotate and you play a Rolex Series every couple years or do you play two. We decided no, not at this particular time. We are not taking that same methodology that is happening in the United States.

We are going to try to give our players maximum freedom to play; while at the same time creating something special on the Rolex Series and in their home events that hopefully will become a little bit more innovative over the next couple years; that they will be encouraged to play here more.

You know, when you actually look at the Rolex Series long-term, you know, one of the objectives is, and always has been, to provide that viable alternative to going to the United States and I think that we are in the first step of doing such.

Q. In terms of The Ryder Cup qualification, was any thought given to dispensing with the World Points list and then just exclusively using The Race to Dubai list and maybe waiting on that so that the emphasis is on The European Tour events, and then supplemented by as you have done before, captain's picks.
THOMAS BJÖRN: Well, every angle was looked at. But we live in the real world, and we've got top players that play worldwide schedules. They are not stuck playing on the PGA TOUR and they are not stuck playing in Europe. They are playing all over the world.

I think the World Ranking points list gives a really -- gives really strength to The Ryder Cup team. This whole thing came from the qualification system moves with the way the world of golf moves. And I think if you took a step back and just looked at Europe, and then you had your picks, I think you're taking away from the way the real world works.

And I don't personally think that that would be a step that would give you the best team, and I still think we've got to, you know, as captain, I have to look at what presents me with the best team. And it's one of these things that you, in the ideal world for The European Tour, you'd like all 12 to qualify from The European Tour golf. But that doesn't give you the best team, probably. So you would have to look at how do you keep The Ryder Cup competitive.

And I believe, and I know our top players believes, that this system gives that best chance. I think after The Ryder Cup, you have to answer to the system, as well, and that's important that you put a system in place that you believe in, and not having to answer afterwards, why is this guy missing or this guy missing.

We've had it from the last Ryder Cup. We have it from a few Ryder Cups teams. Certainly every time you lose, the system is always questioned, and that's on both sides of the Atlantic.

You've got to look at the system and how the world of golf moves and try and adapt the system to that. Like I said before, Paul felt that the system he had for '14 was the right system. But he also said he felt it wasn't the right system for the way the golfing world is now because more and more guys seek to play worldwide.

KEITH PELLEY: Only thing I would add to that is prior to Thomas and I getting together to discuss, there's an array of opinions, an array of different thoughts the minute that you mention Ryder Cup or European Tour Membership. You see the passion. And I saw that with all the board members and I saw that with all the players that we chatted to in Dubai.

So when it finally came down to Thomas and I sitting down and chatting, before we got into what we think is an incredibly strong plan and the six points that, as I said, are all intertwined, we came up with the objective which was the best Ryder Cup Team in 2018 with a plan that shows benefits to The European Tour.

And your concept was definitely one that was brought up at some point. But if we kept coming back to that criteria, that led us to the path which was accepted last night at the Tournament Committee.

SCOTT CROCKETT: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your attendance this morning. Thank you, Thomas, Keith, for your time. Good luck.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

ASAP sports

tech 129
About ASAP SportsFastScripts ArchiveRecent InterviewsCaptioningUpcoming EventsContact Us
FastScripts | Events Covered | Our Clients | Other Services | ASAP in the News | Site Map | Job Opportunities | Links
ASAP Sports, Inc. | T: 1.212 385 0297