We really are encountering the wackiest of times when an acerbic bulletin from Richard Bland can turn heads. Bland was the epitome of a journeyman before shooting to fame with victory on his 478th start on the DP World Tour. A Sky Sports documentary was even released in celebration of his British Masters triumph.
Within the blink of an eye Bland, now 50, had joined the LIV circuit on the apparently palatable basis that this represented an unmissable opportunity for a man of his age to pick up life-changing cash. The emotion associated with “478” had been usurped by commerce.
Bland had not left a strong enough mark on his sport for anybody – besides those documentary makers, presumably – to care deeply about his dash for the petroleum pound. Yet the man himself appears vexed by the state of his previous domain. Bland went on social media to berate the strategic alliance that exists between the DP World and PGA Tours after the latter detailed plans for limited field, no-cut events in 2024. Up popped Hudson Swafford – another LIV man whom even seasoned fans may struggle to pick out from a lineup – to back up the suddenly loquacious Bland.
Perhaps, given time served, Bland really is concerned about the state of his home tour. Yet it is increasingly apparent that LIV converts from Europe are trying to pick holes in the alliance as a way to publicly justify their pursuit of Saudi Arabian dollars. “We were the smart ones, all you losers should have read the signs,” is the underlying message. It was even blunter than that during Sergio García’s expletive-laden rant at fellow players in a locker room in Germany last summer.
The PGA Tour’s throwing of kitchen sinks at their leading men has been essential. Without that, the risk of further and high-profile departures to LIV remained a threat. Had Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, for argument’s sake, switched playing domain then the PGA Tour would have found itself under serious pressure. Instead, bleeding was stopped.
An earlier part of the PGA Tour strategy involved the strategic alliance and, essentially, ensuring the DP World Tour’s eggs were in an American rather than Saudi basket. With that achieved, the PGA Tour has underpinned prize funds for an organisation which is certain of sustainable growth over umpteen years.
Some at the top of the playing tree wanted even smaller fields than the 70-80 who will participate for $20m at a time on the PGA Tour during spells in 2024. With that format set, it will be intriguing to witness how the DP World Tour maps out its own future. Key there, one assumes, is proving to Bland et al that the former European Tour has not been trampled by the charge of corporate America.
The coming days will see scheduled talks take place in Florida between the heads of the DP World and PGA Tours. What is certain is it is not in the interests of the PGA Tour to see their friends in Europe fail. But how to douse the sense of first and second-class citizens? Europe needs a sprinkle of star dust. It needs designated time in the spotlight.
A plan proposed by many is that designated or elevated events should be held in Europe as well as the US. Such a concept, though, carries problems. The likely targets for such status – the Scottish and Irish Opens, plus the PGA Championship at Wentworth – could not reasonably function with fields of 70-80.
It also has to be questioned whether Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth or Max Homa would be tempted by enhanced prize funds in Europe when they can play for the same in the US as routine. Strong fields as the Scottish Open has had in recent times owe plenty to convenience given the tournament position immediately before the Open.
The potential outcome of a sports arbitration case between the DP World Tour and LIV golfers is also pertinent, given the chances of the PGA Tour further supporting tournaments where Bland and his chums can participate are less then slim.
When Rory McIlroy spoke at Bay Hill about Europe “getting in the mix” it was with the understanding that the PGA Tour is the holy grail for most golfers. McIlroy emphasised the opportunity available for players in his home continent.
Still, the DP World Tour needs to think creatively or the background noise from the likes of Bland will not dissipate.