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


October 30, 2005

George O'Grady


GORDON SIMPSON: Good morning, everyone, and thanks very much for your attendance today. It hardly feels like a year since we did this with Ken Schofield and George at Valderrama in Volvo Masters 2004. And this time around, of course it's George flying solo in his first year in charge as Executive Director of The European Tour, and we'd invite everyone, the Spanish journalists and everyone else, if they have got any questions, please fire away and I'll let Maria start off as well, in Spanish.

George, it's been a very exciting year, you might want to make some introductory remarks before we take some questions.

GEORGE O'GRADY: Firstly, thank you very much for inviting me in today. We are also inviting all members of the media to have a celebratory glass of orange juice or champagne in our hospitality tent at the end of today. I didn't really intend to give a formal press conference today, but because we don't intend to announce next year's schedule today, it is, in fact, complete and we have completed everything but one small issue which will be done this afternoon and we'll probably announce it towards the end of next week and we are now in the protocol.

It is going to be a very strong season in 2006 and it's certainly been a very strong season in 2005. I think reading your transcripts of the year, it's been tremendously successful for The European Tour. We know our leading players have a choice, most of them are members of the PGA TOUR and The European Tour, as well. We continue to strive to make our tournaments as good as they possibly can be, regroup them into very strong segments of the Tour to encourage the best players in the world to come back and play, and we will embark more on that strategy next year.

In a playing sense, two of our greatest players today are racing in a race to win the Volvo Masters and Order of Merit, and of course the Rookie of the Year prize. I don't think we've had a time when three rookies were contesting so levelly in the Volvo Masters, including a great young player who won the KLM tournament who came through the Qualifying School, Gonzalo Fernandez Castano, and Richard Finch and Peter Gustafsson.

But really, today is not me talking about the Tour, it's to answer any questions that you have and to say that we hope you will join us to celebrate a tremendous first year.

GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you, George.

Q. These changes that you have just hinted at there and that we know about that the Americans are going to make in moving next year, moving THE PLAYERS Championship and the shortening of the PGA Tour, how will that impact on you and us over here?

GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, when you move THE PLAYERS Championship into May, it's going to impact on us quite strongly I think. All 60 in the world usually play in the THE PLAYERS Championship, and it presents, the word is a challenge.

I think their segment of the Tour, the PGA TOUR and finishing their year early, which is not a fact yet, but it has been well rumoured, I think will present us a great opportunity after the official season is finished and they embark on their race for the qualifying school. I think it will be up to us, and we've certainly started to have tournaments in those periods that are really competitive, and that's our challenge.

Q. But the BMW Championship won't be affected by THE PLAYERS?

GEORGE O'GRADY: No. THE PLAYERS Championship from what I've heard will be earlier in May.

Q. Jean van de Velde was talking this week about women playing in golf in European Tour events, he seems to have won this have quite a lot of support and I wonder what your own view on it is?

GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, I haven't read all of this stuff. I think he was thinking about entering the Ladies British Open. As regards The European Tou,r we have been consistent on everything we've said, certainly since I've taken over as Executive Director, and that's in agreement with just about all of our leading players. We are not totally against ladies playing by invitation. We don't see much point in it. It's been done before, and we don't rule things out. It's just it's a gimmick which has been done. It's just our rules allow for it as a sponsor's invitation, and the sponsor can do it if they can convince the Tour if it's in the interests of the game, the tournament or the country we're in.

Q. So you would not welcome Michelle Wie on The European Tour next year?

GEORGE O'GRADY: It would have to have a very good reason to have a specific tournament to play. It's not something we are actively promoting as we go forward, but we rule nothing out. We have a habit of just keeping an open mind on anything. Michelle Wie, a young girl like that would be a wonderful. I'd like to see her win the Ladies British Open myself, but we won't be actively going out to recruit her.

Q. What some of the players have been objecting to this, George, is it is the possibility of them getting a invitation rather than by qualifying. If they qualify, fine, but by invitation

GEORGE O'GRADY: I'm just talking about The Open Championship, the rules laid down by the R&A. Our rules allow for the promoter and the sponsor to have eight invitations, some of which have got to be full members of the Tour and they have got to agree with the Tour. They have got to convince the Tour it's genuinely in the best interests of the Tour and that tournament.

And I think the last lady to play in one of our events (NB: Laura Davies) was in a co sanctioned event in Australia or New Zealand or somewhere and it wasn't a great success.

Q. Are you talking about the rules as they apply to the main tour or just the co sanctioned events?

GEORGE O'GRADY: No, I'm talking about our rules. We don't actually specify that they can have a professional golfer that can receive a sponsor's invitation. We have got no one knocking our door down to invite a lady. It's been done. It's not something we even concern our brain with for almost a minute in the week. It's just not an issue.

Q. What is a genuine good reason, more publicity for the tournament?

GEORGE O'GRADY: I think personally Michelle Wie, brilliant young lady, playing in Hawaii where she comes from, great local interest, I can see why that would really possibly work.

Possibly one day, there will be a brilliant young Spanish girl of 15 from the Canary Islands, and they ask if she can play in the Canary Islands' tournament and you can see the tremendous interest that would have.

The best lady golfer in the world in my opinion, head and shoulders the best, is Annika Sorenstam. She's done it once in America. Perhaps in Scandinavia, if she wanted to, and the Scandinavians wanted to, you might say, yes, that's a good enough reason. Annika Sorenstam is a brilliant, brilliant and intelligent player. She doesn't want to do that. There would have to be such a good reason, and well, there you are, just can't see it.

Q. You said that of Laura's appearance in Australia that it didn't really work, can you elaborate?

GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, she came last.

Q. Well, can we have a bit more than that, because you don't say to men who finish last, this isn't working, off you go.

GEORGE O'GRADY: But the attention that came to it.

Q. Well, she was second last.

GEORGE O'GRADY: Second last. You'd have to ask the organisers of the event down there, did it do much. I just think Laura is such a great player, a great girl, why is she flying to that part of the world? She can beat the ladies. I don't know what anybody is trying to achieve by that, that's all.

Q. Jean van de Velde wants the rules of The European Tour rewritten to exclude women from events. I take it from what you said over the last five minutes, you would oppose that?

GEORGE O'GRADY: It has not been an issue at our tournament committee meetings or at our board meetings. He's on the board and he's on the tournament committee. We might bring it up next. He might bring it up in view of the change in The Open Championship regulations.

But, I mean, Jean has spoken to me about it this week. There's not one other player coming formally to speak to me. And right at the beginning of the year, when I think I was asked by Lewine in a formal press conference in February or sometime about this; Ernie Els has no problem, he's the No. 1 player. A load of other players have no problem; but they just think, it's not an issue. It's a storyline, which if that's the heading, it's not something I want to almost waste time talking about, because we've just got so many positives on The European Tour this year.

We've really tried to create a team spirit ideal of The European Tour. We've built on Bernhard Langer's wonderful captaincy, a German captaining Europeans, all different nationalities, and they all pulled together. We tried to embody that spirit throughout the whole of Tour, all aspects of the Tour business pulled together, the players pulled with us. They have been concentrating on the whole image of the tour, concentrating on the way we present our tournaments, the way they present themselves, how they react with the public, how they react with the juniors, how they react with all of the different things we bring in in terms of coaches, physiotherapists, player services.

There's so many positives, I think one talking about ladies coming in and out, it almost is not fair on the ladies tour, and it really it's a non story compared to the quality of what some of our players have done this year. From Michael Campbell winning the U.S. Open; Colin Montgomerie is coming in second in The Open Championship; Thomas Björn who is sadly ill this week, one putt away from winning the U.S. PGA Championship; Retief Goosen who is not here because of illness and inability to play in the American Express, played a lot of his golf in Europe, he's the leading points' scorer in the Presidents Cup when he goes over there. Our players, we know who Tiger Woods is; we know who Vijay Singh is. But there are a lot of others that are big crowd drawing players that are European Tour players; we have Sergio Garcia here with Colin Montgomerie; most tournament organisers would die for that.

Q. Does that mean you would oppose what he's recommending?

GEORGE O'GRADY: I'm not too sure there's enough hours in the day to actually even be concerned about it. I have a committee. I have a board. For once on this issue, I'd let them all debate it.

Q. Has he raised the subject?

GEORGE O'GRADY: He has a personal view, and so has Ernie Els and so does Jamie Spence and so do the whole lot of them. That will be debated in committee, if they think we have enough time to debate it, as opposed to some of the really strong issues that we are debating, to answer the questions John Hopkins raised, about what we will do when the PGA TOUR changes their season. These are real challenges, not some whim.

Q. Talking about the positives, and you mentioned Montgomerie, can you talk about Montgomerie's season and also the rekindled interest in the Order of Merit?

GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, I think Colin's played brilliantly throughout the season, whether it's The Open Championship or whether it's winning the dunhill links Championship, as well, and with all of the battles he had. Having him back in the Order of Merit now has certainly provoked a lot of sponsor interest in the Order of Merit, which we might bring back as a way of rewarding really good players and as a marketing concept across the Tour.

Michael Campbell and Colin Montgomerie have really added to this tournament in their fight for the Order of Merit. It's been tremendous. It's not over yet. A lot can happen at Valderrama. Nothing is over certainly until you are through the 17th green, and I think Colin and Michael have really done us proud.

Q. I've got another flippant one for you, I'm afraid. Michael Campbell yesterday was hinting that he might want to take dual nationality and said he would love to play in the Ryder Cup. Is there any realistic possibility?

GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, I heard the question put to him, and I wouldn't say he wasn't hinting; somebody else was asking him the question time after time after time again in the same way that you asked me questions about the ladies. (Laughter).

So he finally said, well, if somebody offered it, I might do it, but I had not really thought about it. But I am living in Brighton; and I do love it here in England; I love everything English; I watch a lot of cricket, and I would say he was not hinting at it he was responding to questions.

Q. But he was the one that promoted it before we even got around to before they even started to do the interview.

GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, let's just say the first I've heard about it was yesterday when we presented him with Honorary Life Membership. I now will start to think about it, but certainly, there's not much left in my brain at the moment to put that at the top of my agenda today. When we finish this here, if I think it's serious, I'll think about it and I might, might bring it to our board of directors.

Q. But the point is, if not him, then somebody could actually without saying it to us, become a dual national and Ernie Els might suddenly decide, I've lived here so long, I'll become a dual national. Is that going to be discussed what the implications of that are?

GEORGE O'GRADY: The first I heard about this was yesterday. It's now one evening later on the last day of the year. We've government advirors on The European Tour, right at the top of the labor party in Britain. I will ask somebody to study what the residency rules are before I start giving any sort of opinion.

Q. But is it feasible that he could play in the Ryder Cup?

GEORGE O'GRADY: I really haven't actually considered it yet. I heard about this idea yesterday. If he was British, and a member of the British PGA or whatever our rules are, when I study them, of course it's feasible. But, we haven't addressed it yet.

Q. Is it something you would have to deal with the PGA TOUR about? Surely you'd have to consult them?

GEORGE O'GRADY: Anything in the Ryder Cup has nothing to do with the PGA TOUR at all. It's the PGA of America. We consult with the PGA of America on all matters relating to the Ryder Cup.

Q. Ernie has a house in Florida, he could take up U.S. citizenship. He could play for both sides.

GEORGE O'GRADY: I do think this is, as you might say, a degree of flippancy about this. (Laughter).

Q. To the change the subject, can I bring it back to not necessarily a more pleasant one, the fact remains that here we are at the last event of the year, Colin is doing Colin's thing, but there is still a considerable amount of comments being made about him. Looking back on the incident in Indonesia and thinking about it now, do you have anything more you want to say about it and what do you think about it?

GEORGE O'GRADY: I have nothing more I wish to say. There was an indent which our tournament director of the day witnessed on the TV pictures available to him and it was clear then there was no case to answer. It is now subjective if somebody else thinks there was, because the Rules of Golf are such that if a referee gives a decision, right or wrong, that's it. In fact, he looked at it, no case to answer. Somebody else can think differently.

The whole issue that brought to our tournament committee of regular, hard tournament players shared by Jamie Spence very, very responsible, they debated the issue for quite a long time and made a statement. These aren't people who are fobbed off with easy answers, Darren Clarke, Thomas Björn, all of the names I think I read out in the press conference at Wentworth, and Jamie Spence made a statement. The matter is closed. There's nothing that can be done and nothing to be gained at all by talking about it on our side.

Q. So you'd like it to go away? The fact that people are talking about it still continually is a matter of regret for you?

GEORGE O'GRADY: Obviously. I think it's a great source of regret to Colin Montgomerie himself. Colin Montgomerie, is to those of us who work for the Tour, a model professional and to the best of our knowledge tries to play totally by the spirit and exact letter of the law of the rules. Colin, you will have to ask him. But, no, I think a decision has been taken and it should rest because it's been dealt with responsibly and people who have to make these decisions have considered everything and made a decision. And that's what I think democracy is all about.

Q. Do you have any personal views on whether the Ryder Cup should become a tri team event, bringing in an international Presidents Cup team event and playing a three way event?

GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, my personal view is the Ryder Cup has been phenomenally successful, so why change it? I say the same, whichever side won or lost, because it has been so very, very close coming down to usually half a point, one point or even a tie on getting the thing. I know the result was quite flattering in our favor this year. I think if it isn't broke, don't fix it, and I would have to have boards and players of The European Tour and boards and players of the PGA of America to really consider that. I haven't heard any grounds for it yet.

Q. So nobody has ever approached you?

GEORGE O'GRADY: Not formally, no.

Q. Was there a point at which you considered matching the Americans shorter tour with a shorter tour of our own or not?

GEORGE O'GRADY: I think we're in a slightly different situation. We haven't had to, because so many of our tournaments in the winter months when you can't play in Europe are co sanctioned in other parts of the world, while we find a tremendous interest in the co sanctioning with us, we haven't really we've look at several different permutations, and right now we have arrangements going forward for at least two, three years in many places. We feel we've got it we can't go much longer. The Tour has, I think there are 47 Order of Merit tournaments that's about it. There may be one, conceivably two, but we quite like where we are now. We start again in two weeks time with the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai, and that is, you could say, effectively a world event. But, no, we do look at different permutations.

Q. Do you worry that by going all over the world that you are diluting The European Tour brand; and secondly, because you go all over the world, have you ever thought of changing the name of the Tour?

GEORGE O'GRADY: I don't think we dilute the brand. I would say we strengthen the brand by going to other parts of the word. I think it is one of our greater strengths. If you talk to Mr. Zhang, the vice president of Chinese Golf Association and a guest here of Volvo and ask him which tour he likes to be involved with, he very much likes being involved with The European tour brand because he thinks it's so strong and stands for integrity and it gives visibility. Those are our two bedrock words.

Changing the names, I think if we are going to be playing a lot outside Europe, yes, it's something we think about, but we haven't felt the need to do so yet. We have five tournaments in China, expanded is Asia. We have three tournaments in the Arab Emirates that year which will be the envy of virtually anybody the world; they are three tremendous events. I think not seriously thought about changing the name yet but we are listening to ideas.

Q. Getting back to the subject of the changes the Americans may be considering about their own tour, have you had any dialogue with them considering the effects that might have on the European Tour? Are they considerate of our position over here? Are they aware of it?

GEORGE O'GRADY: They are certainly aware of it. I think that we've had meetings. I speak to Tim Finchem once a fortnight and Keith Waters who heads our international business speaks to Ed Moorehouse. We had meeting at THE PLAYERS Championship, and The Open Championship; and specifically at the Presidents Cup, we spent a whole day at the Presidents Cup on date and permutations for the world.

Yes, they are considerate of our position. I think they work for the PGA TOUR and not for The European Tour, so we have to look after ourselves and they will look after themselves.

Q. Have you looked at what they are planning to do at THE PLAYERS Championship and some of the other bigger events not next year, but the year after, and do you have any concerns about where they will be positioning big events might impact European Tour events?

GEORGE O'GRADY: Obviously, their dates are basically, they are planning depending on how the negotiations go with the American networks which they are about to start one month's time, and they have delayed those negotiations.

Every time they effect a date change for one of the really big events, and by that I mean, THE PLAYERS Championship, they have to react to these changes because of the requests by the networks and specifically moving THE TOUR Championship at the end of the year to a month earlier. I think when THE PLAYERS Championship moves, and there's plenty of notice of this happening, we have been in negotiations to move it to dates that would be easier for us to deal with.

We are realists. We are optimistic realists on The European Tour. We know we have some of the best players in the world and we know when THE PLAYERS Championship is on, anybody in the Top 50 of the World Ranking will want to play in THE PLAYERS Championship. It's purse I think is about $8.5 million. I think when they move the date, they will probably increase it. We are playing here for $5.25 million, and that's nothing to apologize for in my opinion. But it is tough.

We have to make The European Tour very attractive for the best players in the world. But the commitment of some of our top players, and what we're seeing this year, whether it's Thomas Björn, Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia. This week I've had dinner with Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, heard all of their ideas on what it will take to get them to support The European Tour more, what will attract them to play and how we deal and combat the American requests. This isn't going to be me and my executives deciding what we do. This is my, my executives, and all of the players. I unashamedly say the leading players, because if we get it right with the leading players, just like I said, the Rookie of the Year, today's Qualifying School graduate is tomorrow's leading player.

We will only keep a really successful European Tour if every player is involved in the discussion, understands our challenge. And when Darren Clarke had to pull out this week on Friday, I sent him a text. The text I got back of huge support to The European Tour and the support we've had with him; it's his ideas, as well where we're going to go to make The European Tour attractive for him when he comes through this tremendously difficult time.

Q. Could THE PLAYERS Championship be part of the Order of Merit?

GEORGE O'GRADY: Could be. It hasn't been considered. We'd have to have pretty clear qualification procedure. It hasn't been considered but it could be, yeah.

Q. You wouldn't consider reducing the number of events, eligible events to qualify for membership of the Tour; for instance, John Daly would have won more event, would have been a great coup.

GEORGE O'GRADY: I think John Daly is definitely American in that sense, but I hear what you're saying.

I think, no, our 11 events and we know that makes it difficult for players if they are not in the Top 50 in the world because if you're in the Top 50 in the world you're in seven ranking events on both sides of the Atlantic, you've only got to find four, exactly the same as Sergio Garcia. Sergio, who has kept his European Tour membership because of that 11 tournament rule wants to play more in Europe if we can find the right openings, tournaments, dates to suit his diary. We know he has a choice.

I think that you have to show a commitment to The European Tour. There has been talk from some players that you must support more of the Tour on the mainland, continental Europe or Britain, as opposed to co sanctioned events in other parts of the world. The rules have worked pretty well so far, we have kept Ernie Els; his conversation is a direct conversation between Ernie Els and myself. And the same with Retief Goosen, the same with Padraig Harrington, all have had personal conversations. I'm not saying we are jumping around changing the whole Tour for one particular player. But if we know how they are thinking and how it will actually move their schedules, we have a better chance of, one, having them on the side, and two, getting their commitment.


End of FastScripts.

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