Why golf doesn't need Premier League when it already delivers joy and tears

Who needs a Premier Golf League, Super Golf League or whatever else anyone might come up with in what is perceived to be a need for the sport to be “revolutionised”?

Conor O'Neil is overcome with emotion after winning the Jessie May World Snooker Championship at Donnington Grove on Friday. Picture: PGA EuroPro Tour
Conor O'Neil is overcome with emotion after winning the Jessie May World Snooker Championship at Donnington Grove on Friday. Picture: PGA EuroPro Tour

To be perfectly honest, I can’t see the Premier Golf League getting off the ground at the start of 2023 as planned, certainly not with all the top players on board and, really, what’s the point if that’s not the case?

However, the last few weeks have provided a timely reminder that the game actually doesn’t need to be shaken up on the tournament front to generate more interest.

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Not when it can already throw up Phil Mickelson becoming the game’s oldest major winner at 50 with his sensational success in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

Not when the European Tour has delivered first-time triumphs for Richard Bland, Marcus Armitage and now Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Caldwell in the inaugural Scandinavian Mixed event.

Not when 22-year-old South African Garrick Higgo has just backed up three European Tour wins since September with a breakthrough win on the PGA Tour in the Palmetto Championship at Congaree.

Sorry, but, for me anyway, a Premier Golf League would quickly get boring because the beauty of golf is that so many people aren’t only interested in Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau and the other top players.

A good example of that was delivered on Friday on the PGA EuroPro Tour, one of the third-tier circuits in Europe, as it delivered a very popular win indeed for Glaswegian Conor O’Neil.

What a dreadful time it had been for him, having seen both his dad, Danny, and his uncle, Steve, take their own lives, rendering golf as something that didn’t matter for a spell and understandably so.

Despite knowing what had happened, I couldn’t pluck up the courage to talk to O’Neil for an interview earlier in the year, but, along with lots of others, I was willing him on from afar when he got himself in contention in the final round of the Jessie May World Snooker Golf Championship at Donnington Grove in Newbury.

It would be stretching things to say that O’Neil landing the title reverberated around the golf world, but what a fantastic story and no wonder he was overcome with emotion.

His dad, a well-known figure in the Glasgow business community, had been his guiding light, on and off the golf course, but he wasn’t there to see the 29-year-old land the biggest win of his career.

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“It was great to know my mum was crying for a good reason when I spoke to her,” O’Neil, choking back tears, told me shortly after getting his hands on the trophy and that remark stuck in my head over the weekend.

Golf is already a fantastic sport and, using Scotland as example, we’ve had the Barrie Douglas Foundation Scottish Junior Masters, Paul Lawrie Foundation Junior Jug and the Stephen Gallacher Foundation Trophy and Vase at grass-roots level in recent weeks.

A bit higher up the ladder, we’ve also just had the St Rule Trophy and Links Trophy in St Andrews and the Women’s Amateur Championship at Kilmarnock (Barassie), with the men’s equivalent now underway at Nairn.

Players competing in those events don’t need the game to be “revolutionised” to make it more attractive as they attempt to carve out careers, with various avenues open to them as they bid to climb up that ladder.

Admittedly, it’s a blow to aspiring European Tour players like O’Neil to hear that there will be no Qualifying School for that circuit again this year, but here’s hoping those destined to get there will overcome that unfortunate Covid-19 consequence.

The Premier Golf League or Super Golf League might be prepared to offer fortunes, but why should they expect to come along and benefit from players having been provided with career opportunities on both the European Tour and the PGA Tour?

The men’s game is just fine with four majors, four WGCs and lots of other big events all over the world, including, of course, the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, which is set to feature another world-class field at The Renaissance Club next month.

If anything, the game could do with more mixed events like the one hosted by Annika Sorenstam and Henrik Stenson in Sweden as it was terrific and hats off to tournament director Mikael Eriksson and his team for getting the set up spot on.

A similar event involving PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players has to be on the cards before too long, but, in the meantime, let’s forget about talk of a Premier Golf League and let the game as it stands continue to deliver proof in the pudding that there is absolutely no need for major change.

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