Ernie Els 'loves' plan for new world golf tour but fires warning to top stars

Ernie Els, who turned down Greg Norman when he was trying to set up a world golf tour 25 years ago, believes the game's current superstars will be forced into the same decision over a new proposal to shake up the game.

Ernie Els was approached by Greg Norman, the world No 1 at the time, to be part of a breakaway world tour 25 years ago
Ernie Els was approached by Greg Norman, the world No 1 at the time, to be part of a breakaway world tour 25 years ago

Speaking as he prepared for this week's Saudi International on the European Tour, the big South African said he "loved" a plan to set up a new Premier Golf League due to it involving a "Formula One model" into the game.

However, Els feels the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson will be given no encouragement whatsoever from either the PGA Tour or European Tour to be part of a breakaway circuit, as was the case when Norman proposed something similar.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“I was right in the middle of it," said Els of that failed attempt by the then world No 1. "I remember looking at my future knowing that if I was going with Greg - which sounded brilliant - if anything happened there was no way back for me on to the regular tours.

“So I said to Greg that for him at that stage of his career he could probably afford to do it, but I couldn’t because I would never be able to play again if it went wrong.

“I didn’t have to ask the Tour. It was pretty clear then that the Tours weren’t going to be playing ball with the new regime and it was a breakaway tour so it wasn’t going to work.It could be the same again."

Referring to British-based World Golf Group, the people proposing to set up the big-money League, he added: “I’m reading that they want to work with the Tours, but that would be very difficult to do.

"There’s a lot of factors, but I think it’s very intriguing having heard the way they want to do it. But it’s a difficult one for the players because if you break away you’re probably going to be away for life."

Under the proposals, 48 players would compete in 18 tournaments, each over 54 holes, in an eight-month season from January to September for a total prize fund of $240 million (£183m) with no cut and an individual and team league format.

The weekly individual winner would claim $2m (£1.5m) of the $10m (£7.5m) purse, the overall individual champion will receive a $10m (£7.5m) bonus and there will be a $40m (£30m) team prize fund, with $14m (£10.7m) split between the winning four-man team.

“I loved it because they are bringing in the Formula One model," said Els of his first reaction to the plan to shake up the game. "You’d have a team owner with four players who are competing individually but there’s also an element of team golf as well - the Constructor’s Championship, so to speak.

“So it would be very different and obviously great for the punters. You can support a team as well as an individual. There’s a lot of really great positives about it, but they’re going to have to figure out how they work with the existing tours.

“I do think it has a chance. If the players support it, then it’s a done deal. If you have the top players in the world supporting an adventure like this it will go because that’s where television will go and the fans will follow. So it’s really up to the existing top world players.”

World No 1 Brooks Koepka and fifth-ranked Dustin Johnson are both waiting to find out the full details of the proposals before deciding if it is something they might consider being part of, with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan believed to have warned members they will not be allowed to be part of a breakaway tour.

“I still love watching tournament golf whether it is Europe, PGA or even the Champions Tour and really any tournament that is competitive I love watching," said Els in giving his view of the current traditional format.

"Sometimes I like to root for the underdog and the guy who is going to have a great story at the end of the day, a life-changing event like beating a Tiger Woods or a Rory and with a guy that you haven’t really heard of and suddenly he’s the man.

“You get that scenario on the European Tour and the PGA Tour, though, when you go the other direction being suggested where you have superstars and you are going to be watching superstars all day and I don’t know if that is boring or not.

“Promotion and relegation is another thing because how do the guys qualify for this proposed new series and how do you kick a guy out and, if so, where does he go?

“So, the question is will it be based on a world ranking format as there is a lot of things to be worked out, and if they can work that out then good and can will they be able to work that out with the tours. I like the proposal. I like it for its creativity and nuance into the world of golf."