Thursday

Amid Euro Tour Tensions, Thomas Bjørn Steps Down

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Chairman of Europe's Tournament Players Committee is a perilous position in the best of times.

It's said to be the most important job in European golf, but the fact is, as Chairman you're stuck between the proverbial devil and the perennial deep blue sea. It's a continuing struggle to keep sponsors satisfied and top players placated. And the desires of these two groups often diverge. Sharply. It's up to the Chairman to keep it all on an even keel.

Then, suppose in addition to being Chairman, you're trying to maintain your standing on one of the world's most competitive golf tours... as a player?

For Thomas Bjørn, who today officially resigned from the post, it was untenable. So much so that he's recently been treated for dizziness and extreme fatigue. The stress of hesitant sponsors plus chronically complaining players can do that to you.

There was also the issue of his recent smackdown with VIP player Padraig Harrington over a proposed requirement that members play in at least four of six core events in Europe, to qualify for the Race to Dubai next year. It was a war-of-words that escalated, and apparently became quite vitriolic. To the extent that one European Tour player told me, "...it makes the Kim/Allenby argy-bargy seem like a sandbox squabble".

Well who knew, right? Because let's face it, to the fan base on this side of the Atlantic... and the golf scribes that write for them, the issue of AK's questionable sobriety vs. Allenby's sour grapes is far sexier than say... the future of the European Tour. It was in fact, not only the future of the European Tour, but the future of golf on a global scale that was the source of the EuroGolf Feud, and it subsequently became a main topic at the Player's Committee meeting that took place in Portugal earlier today. The meeting was where Mr. Bjørn ultimately announced his resignation.

As Chairman in a declining economy, the Danish golfer found himself facing European sponsors who were deeply dismayed by top players missing their events. That's where he came up with the idea for "obligatory core events".

While Harrington... who had been invited to the meeting by European Tour Chief Executive George O'Grady "to give an alternative opinion"... did just that, and expressed his feeling that "instead of trying to force players to compete in more Europe-based tournaments to qualify for membership, the European Tour should be looking to expand into Asia to aid its future growth."

And it appears as though Padraig Harrington may have won this round. The decision was made NOT to adopt the restrictions for the time being. (Some speculate it's because star player Rory McIlroy is sending strong signals that he'll be heading to the US for the coming season.) A half compromise was proposed in the form of a point system for Tour membership, and the "core" tournaments will be given extra weight. Thomas Bjørn was clearly not satisfied and there went his resignation.

Of course former Ryder Cup partners Thomas Bjørn and Harrington assured everyone that their dispute had done nothing to damage their friendship, but I don't quite buy it.

When Padraig was asked if he'd ever consider serving on the Player's Committee, he responded with a slightly snarky, "I'm playing golf - I don't have time to be on a committee."