Keith Pelley, the chief executive of the European Tour, thinks the pro game needs to speed up for the digital age, marvels at his players’ respect for one another, and wishes the media weren’t so negative. And yeah, he’s a Canadian.
Q. Was there any resistance from the players to a Canadian taking over the European Tour?
No, nothing except a few ice hockey jokes (and I can’t believe I’ve called it ice hockey—that’s an embarrassment to my home country, so I apologize profusely to all Canadians). The players are great. It’s interesting because they are independent contractors all in different stages of their careers and their lives. They live in different countries. What I learned very quickly is what is critical for one player may not matter for someone else.
Q. You’ve attempted different formats to break up the monotony of 72-hole stroke-play competition every week, notably Golf Sixes. Expand on that a bit.
Golf Sixes is an event built around six-hole matches played between two-man teams where both players hit a drive and the team chooses one and plays alternate shot until the ball is holed. I believe strongly in it for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a format that can be adopted outside the professional game.
Two, I think it’s phenomenal for a younger audience because each six-hole match takes 60 minutes, so it’s fast-paced and compelling. I believe Golf Sixes could become a global format. I’ve said that to all the other tours and federations and governing bodies—it doesn’t matter where it started, where it originated, it’s good for the game.
Q. What’s your theory on Team Europe’s dominance in the Ryder Cup over the last three decades?
I’ve never been in the team room of the U.S. other than to say hi, but I certainly saw the spirit in our room last September. The respect and admiration our players had for each other was second to none. I’ve only seen it once before, not in golf but in the 2004 Toronto Argonauts in the CFL. They probably shouldn’t have won the championship that year, but they did because they had an unwavering will and respect and admiration for each other. I saw the same thing last fall in Paris.
Q. Are there any courses you’d love to have as a European Tour site?
We’re on some of them now. Valderrama is one of the best in the world. Le Golf National was showcased as one of the best. I think the changes made to Wentworth have made it a world-class facility. We will showcase another world-class facility this year at Lahinch in the Irish Open. Of course, we’d love to play on some of the great British links courses that host the Open Championship and are tied to the R&A.
Q. What’s your pet peeve?
I get frustrated with the media focusing on who is not at a golf tournament rather than who is. For instance, the field may include a Thorbjorn Olesen, one of the exciting up-and-comers, 40th in the world and a guy who beat Jordan Spieth in the Ryder Cup. Let’s focus on that. I know and understand the media world, but sometimes they focus too heavily on the negative.
Q. What’s your favorite quote or inspirational saying?
Life is about choices. If you have your physical and mental health, misery is optional and yet some people choose it and I just can’t figure out why.
Q. What’s your perfect day?
It would probably be a Monday when we’ve just finished a sensational tournament where the weather was perfect, the course was well received, 22 players call me to say thank you, and the sponsor says they’d like to re-up for the next four years and double the money. I haven’t had that day, but it’s still out there.