Fabrizio Zanotti had been waiting to hear where he would be this week.
Ranked 38th on the DP World Tour, he was about to feature at the Genesis Scottish Open. But as of last summer, an alliance between the PGA Tour and the DP Tour meant he had a spot in the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship in Nicholasville, Kentucky, almost 4,000 miles away if he didn’t make it to the Scottish Open.
Zanotti, who is from Paraguay, did not complain. “It’s really good,” he said. “The partnership is nice for us here in Europe, to have the opportunity to get there.”
Just a few months ago, the PGA Tour and the European Tour, which oversees the DP World Tour, had an alliance that looked fruitful. After battling for players for several decades, the tours came together in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic and had formalized a partnership by November 2020.
Last August, the tours announced they were co-sanctioning three events: the Scottish Open and Barbasol, which run Thursday through Sunday, and next week’s Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nevada, versus the British Open.
This meant that PGA and DP World Tour players could compete in both events if they were ranked high enough to enter. But most importantly, it meant they had a big consolation prize by playing less of the Scottish or British Open tournaments on the more prestigious PGA Tour.
When this deal was announced in August, it was heralded as a sign of deepening collaboration between the tours and was sold as a benefit for members of both tours.
“Because we’re co-sanctioning three events this year, we’re no longer competing for top players,” European Tour commissioner Keith Pelley said in an interview earlier this year.
“Everything changed after November 2020. It was a rethink for both of our organizations to work together as closely as possible and share all facets of our business. We have gone from competitors to partners.”
Those were the days. This alliance will be publicly and politically tested by the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour. The high-dollar invitational series has lured away a group of PGA and DP World Tour players and pushed more established tours to make changes.
The first event took home $4 million for the winner, but there was money guaranteed for every player, including last place finisher Andy Ogletree, who won the 2019 US Amateur. (He didn’t make it to the first non-field LIV event in the United States, at Pumpkin Ridge, Oregon, which puts his future career in doubt.)
For golfers trying to climb the rankings and into tournaments, money is certainly an issue, but points on the official world golf rankings matter most. They determine how much control players have over their schedules.
“The playability with the Fusion is great,” said Maverick Antcliff, a collegiate at Augusta State University in Georgia and ranked 171st on the DP Tour. “If you have a good week in this other field, you have the opportunity to move to the United States. This is the path I want to go. This strategic alliance has shown us a clearer path.”
Prior to the alliance, players in Europe received invitations to the PGA Tour and Majors by placing in the top 50 in the world – not just on a specific tour – or through their United States or British Open qualifying process. The strategic alliance has given talented but lower-ranked players the opportunity to compete on the PGA Tour and potentially finish high enough to gain more control over their schedule.
While it raises larger, existential questions for professional golf, it has more practical week-to-week consequences for players trying to compete in tournaments like the Scottish Open. Will LIV Golf defectors who are banned from events allow other players to compete? And that’s another possibility for players who are on the cusp of asking if they have a seat at events after staying true to the tour they played on.
The answers are not clear. On the one hand, the two tours are structured differently. The PGA Tour is non-profit. The European Tour is essentially a coalition of its members. So their punishments are different because their members supposedly have a say.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has threatened to suspend or ban players who go to the LIV Tour (with a number of players like Dustin Johnson and Kevin Na giving up their membership after moving to LIV).
Pelley, the European Tour commissioner, had to treat his players differently: they were fined $120,000 for playing the first LIV event in London and banned from participating in the three jointly sanctioned events . Pablo Larrazabal and Oliver Bekker paid their penalties and returned to the European Tour at the last Horizon Irish Open.
But the LIV Tour, which aims to challenge the existing tours, is doing so at the expense of the up-and-coming players. Think of Ogletree, who struggled on the PGA Tour but had his US amateur champion status to fall back on. Now the question remains what his departure to the LIV Tour means for his professional career.
A quick guide to the LIV Golf Series
The tours announced major improvements to their partnership in late June. Among them, the PGA Tour is increasing its stake in the European Tour from 15 percent to 40 percent, which will result in higher prize pools on the DP World Tour. It also gives players on this tour a route to get onto the PGA Tour, with the top 10 European players receiving playing privileges in the United States at the end of the season.
“The involvement of the DP World Tour and these players will only help expand our tournament and it’s great for our sponsor Barracuda Networks,” said Barracuda Championship Tournament Director Chris Hoff, noting that 50 players from the DP World Tour will be in addition to 106 from the PGA Tour.
“There are a lot of people who want to come over. It’s a mid to upper mid tournament when it comes to the number of Race to Dubai points available on top of the purse.”
These points are important, and with none of the players who competed on the LIV Tour being able to compete in the three jointly-sanctioned events this season, it gives other players who stayed on the tours a chance.
For a player like Antcliff, whose world number 550 sometimes makes it difficult to enter tournaments, the alternative field events give him hope. “For me personally it’s nice when there’s an event and you have the opportunity to play in the same week,” he said. “It’s a long season. Your best week is just around the corner. It’s another opportunity to play a PGA Tour event.”
The co-sanctioning changes have not been great for all tournaments. The most recent John Deere Classic was formerly held opposite the Scottish Open. His claim to fame was having a jet waiting to fly the winner to the British Open.
Zanotti will play at the Scottish Open this week. However, next week he had planned to play at the Barracuda Championship on the PGA Tour, but his fourth-place finish at the Irish Open took him to the British Open.
“It’s not very easy to get through the world rankings to play on the PGA Tour if you’re not a top 50 player,” said Zanotti, who is ranked 237th in the world. “So I think it’s great to have those two opportunities. You can always win or have a good week.”