In recent weeks, the push to globalize golf has ignited discussions involving PGA Tour standout Rory McIlroy and the departing DP World Tour CEO, Keith Pelley.
McIlroy’s “dream scenario” includes tapping into markets such as Australia, South Africa and Japan.
Pelley, who announced last week that he is leaving his post to join Maple Leaf Sports in Toronto, told reporters in Dubai on Tuesday that American golfers have to look beyond their own borders when they think about growing the game.
Part of the delay in finalizing the PGA Tour’s framework agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund [PIF] and the DP World Tour is the Saudis’ insistence that team golf remain a part of the game. Team events could be played in locations around the world.
“PIF certainly understands the importance of being global,” Pelley said, according to a report by the Guardian of London. “This is a global game. Every business now that is growing wants to be global. What I would like to see is the game becoming unified with a global strategy. I think the PGA Tour is coming to the realization [that being global] is the key for the growth. They have heard me say it once or twice.”
As the professional game cranks up this week with the first event of the PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing and the LPGA Tour’s season opener, eyes will also be on other parts of the world.
McIlroy and other PGA Tour stars are competing in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, the first Rolex Series event on the DP World Tour. Top amateurs from Latin America will be playing in Panama with invitations to three of this season’s majors going to the winner.
Here’s what to watch in professional golf this week:
What’s next on the PGA Tour
The American Express
Where: La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, California
Defending champion: Jon Rahm
Purse: $8.4 million
No defending champion: For the second time in three events this season, the defending champion isn’t in the field. Rahm jumped to the LIV Golf League on Dec. 7. He was also the defending champion for The Sentry, the season opener in Hawaii, which Chris Kirk won on Jan. 7. Last year, Rahm captured The American Express for the second time with a one-stroke victory over Davis Thompson.
It’s the second straight season in which The American Express’ defending champion isn’t around to defend his title. Last year, Hudson Swafford was absent after joining LIV Golf.
Rahm will make his LIV Golf debut Feb. 2-4 at El Camaleon Golf Club in Quintana Roo, Mexico. He will captain his own team, Legion XIII GC, as the 13th four-man team in the league.
LIV Golf officials haven’t yet announced the other players who will compete on Rahm’s squad. Asian Tour golfer Kieran Vincent has been linked to Rahm’s team in recent weeks, as has University of Tennessee sophomore Caleb Surratt. Surratt is the 10th-ranked amateur in the world and represented the U.S. in the Walker Cup in September.
A strong field: Even with Rahm absent, there’s a strong field at The American Express. It’s not a signature event with an increased purse, but that didn’t stop 22 of the world’s top 50 players from entering.
Former U.S. Ryder Cup team member Daniel Berger is also making his first start in more than 18 months. The four-time PGA Tour winner hasn’t competed since the 2022 U.S. Open because of a serious back injury. He tried to play through the pain; the injury was later diagnosed as a slight bulge in a lower disc and deep-bone sensitivity.
“That was the worst six months of my life,” Berger told the Associated Press last year. “I’ve had a pretty easy life. I play golf for a living – it’s not that stressful. But there was a point that I would have given up golf for the rest of my life not to feel like that.”
Another Block party: California club pro Michael Block, who captured the sport’s imagination with his performance (and ace) at the PGA Championship last season, is in the field at La Quinta Country Club.
In September, Block won the Southern California PGA Professional Championship at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks. He captured the tournament by four strokes to earn spots in The American Express and next week’s Farmers Insurance Open. Last year, Block carded a 7-under 65 in the first round at the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course, but missed the 54-hole cut at The American Express. .
After tying for 15th at the 2023 PGA Championship, Block received sponsor’s exemptions into the Charles Schwab Challenge and RBC Canadian Open and made the World Wide Technology Championship field as a PGA section champion. He missed the cut in each event. Block is currently ranked 602nd in the world.
What’s next on the LPGA Tour
Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions
Where: Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, Orlando, Florida
Defending champions: Brooke M. Henderson
Purse: $1.5 million
Only winners: The 35-player field for the Tournament of Champions includes only winners from the LPGA Tour the past two seasons. The field includes three women who captured four of the five major championships last season: Lilia Vu (Chevron Championship and The Women’s Open), Ruoning Yin (Women’s PGA Championship) and Allisen Corpuz (U.S. Women’s Open). France’s Celine Boutier, who captured the Evian Championship, is the only major championship winner from 2023 not in the field.
The field includes 20 of the top 50 players in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, including Nelly Korda, Rose Zhang, Charley Hull and Jennifer Kupcho.
Celebrities are out: A group of 46 celebrities and amateurs from sports, music and entertainment will compete in a 72-hole tournament at Lake Nona with modified stableford scoring. Celebrities will receive one point for bogeys, two for pars, three for birdies, five for eagles, eight for hole-in-ones and 10 for double-eagles. There’s a $500,000 purse for celebrities, including $100,000 to the winner.
Former tennis player Mardy Fish, who won the celebrity event last year, is back in the field. Pro Football Hall of Famers Marcus Allen, Charles Woodson and Emmitt Smith, NBA All-Stars Ray Allen and Vince Carter and baseball greats Roger Clemens, John Smoltz and Albert Pujols are also scheduled to compete.
“Almost every year I get at least a couple people that I’m pretty nervous on the first tee,” Henderson said. “But a few years ago I played with Vince Carter and I said to myself, ‘If I can play in front of Vince Carter, I can play in front of anybody.’ So after that it’s been a little bit easier.”
Former U.S. men’s soccer star Landon Donvoan has only been playing golf for about a year.
“I don’t have any goals this week except to have fun, stay out of the way, get invited back, and hopefully make a few good shots,” he said. “This format is unique. I’ve tried to play a lot more stroke play at home because it just makes you a better player, but this format is unique. If you have a double, triple, quad, bogey, doesn’t matter. You just move on to the next hole.”
Locked in: The lack of women’s lockers at last year’s event at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club caused a bit of controversy. The permanent women’s locker room at the club was damaged by a storm, so the LPGA planned to have temporary ones delivered. The tour changed its mind, but the lack of privacy and security didn’t sit well with some players. The LPGA eventually had 36 temporary lockers delivered to the course.
This year, players and celebrities will have designated locker rooms.
“Similar to other LPGA tournaments, select tournament sponsors and staff will also have access to the clubhouse and this includes the restroom facilities within the locker rooms,” Aaron Stewart, VP of sports marketing at Hilton Grand Vacations, said in a statement to Golfweek.
“LPGA players and female celebrities will also have private restroom facilities for players-only in the upstairs area of the clubhouse adjacent to their player-only dining room. We have worked closely with the LPGA to ensure all appropriate security and access policies are followed.”
PGA Tour stars in the Middle East
A handful of PGA Tour stars, including McIlroy, Brian Harman, Cameron Young, Adam Scott and Tommy Fleetwood, are competing this week in Dubai. The 72-hole event starts Thursday at Emirates Golf Club and has a $9 million purse, with $1.53 million going to the winner.
Last week, McIlroy had a 1-shot lead over Fleetwood heading to the 72nd hole of the inaugural Dubai Invitational. McIlroy pulled his drive into the water and was forced to take a drop. Fleetwood made birdie to collect his seventh DP World Tour victory and his first since November 2022.
Fleetwood, who has won more than $20.3 million on the PGA Tour, is still searching for his first victory on the circuit. The Englishman now lives in Dubai with his family.
“Keep playing to a high standard, practicing to a high standard, putting yourself in those positions all the time, and then you get a chance of winning,” Fleetwood told reporters in Dubai Tuesday. “It’s not going to work out all the time, and it’s very, very hard and there are always players that play great and that are going to be hitting great shots. You just have to be there, and like I say, your times will come.”
Amateurs playing for majors
The opening round of the Masters is 85 days away, but an amateur can earn an invitation to Augusta National Golf Club by winning this week’s Latin American Amateur Championship at Santa Maria Golf Club in Panama City, Panama.
The winner, as long as he remains an amateur, would also receive exemptions into the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina and The Open at Royal Troon Golf Club in Scotland.
Three golfers from Mexico, Omar Morales (No. 74), Santiago De la Fuente (No. 89) and Jose Islas (No. 115), are among the highest-ranked players in the amateur world rankings in the field, along with the Cayman Islands’ Justin Hastings (No. 97) and Trinidad and Tobago’s Chris Richards Jr. (No. 106)
Aaron Jarvis, the Latin American Amateur Championship winner in 2022, is also in the field. The UNLV sophomore was the event’s first winner from the Caribbean. Last year’s champion, Argentina’s Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira, turned pro and competed on PGA Tour Canada last year.