Dubai: Given the extent of the chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it was only thanks to a Herculean effort by all involved in the European Tour that the season took place at all, according to Guy Kinnings, the Tour’s Deputy CEO, Ryder Cup Director and Chief Commercial Officer.
Speaking exclusively to Gulf News on the eve of the 2021 season-opening Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in the UAE capital, Kinnings revealed the lengths the organisers went to to complete a campaign wrecked by COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown. Having helped oversee the monumental task of getting the Race to Dubai competition and Rolex Series to the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last month, Kinnings admitted it was only possible due to all and sundry at the European Tour pulling together as one.
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“It was an extraordinary year,” he said. “The astounding thing was the effort of many to rise to the challenges and get it done. We are here first and foremost to serve the players, making sure they have events to play in for their livelihoods and earn their playing cards for the next season.
“We were 11 events in when the lockdown came into affect and we lost so many tournaments, including the Open Championship. We had to relearn everything. We became COVID experts and our chief medical officer became the most important member on our staff.”
Kinnings explained that the bio-secure environment surrounding each event was key to the success of the season when things began again with Marc Warren winning the Austrian Open in July.
“After the break, everyone came together to build a calendar to complete the season and get to the DP World Tour Championships,” he said. “It was never easy. We all had to adopt different mindsets. We were used to competitions in 35 different countries and players from all over the globe. Each of these countries had different protocols, but we created a bio-bubble of our own around each tournament, mainly to allow the players to get out there and play, while ensuring their health and safety. We created new tournaments in a matter of weeks that would normally take months to organise and shuffled events together for logistics to create such things as the British Swing.”
Kinnings admits that the Tour organisers have learnt a lot as they move into the 2021 season in Abu Dhabi.
“We all hoped that we would get to the end of 2020 and then everything would be fine,” he said. “Obviously that is not the case as we are still in the bio-bubble and without fans. However, we are in such a strong place with what we have learnt going into three crucial weeks on the Tour. We are in a new year and have a whole new set of experiences ahead, starting here in Abu Dhabi. It is the first of our Rolex Series events and has a purse of $8 million. Recently this has become such an important week as it sets the tone for the season. Things obviously have to be done differently and we have to be ready to react for anything that could happen, next week, tomorrow, in one hour.
“The Abu Dhabi Sports Council has been amazing with their help, along with Dubai for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic next week before we head to Saudi. It is all part of our evolution and these three weeks are crucial to that.”
This year is also a Ryder Cup year, and Kinnings has contingency plans in place, should the worst happen and another lockdown prevents players from accruing the points required to qualify for Team Europe before the competition at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, in September.
“European captain Padraig Harrington is here in Abu Dhabi and casting a critical eye over his prospective players on the driving range,” said Kinnings. “We can only plan for what is ahead of us. Obviously we hope the players get a chance to play a full season and qualify on merit. In the worst-case scenario, and things change, we will work with the PGA, Padraig and US captain Steve Stricker to come up with a solution to get the most appropriate teams together for both sides.
“The players have been fantastic, so resilient and supportive of our decisions.”
Team Europe has had much success in the Ryder Cup in recent times, winning nine of the past 12 events against their sometimes much-higher-ranked American opponents.
Kinnings admits it is difficult to put a finger on the key to this success, but insists team spirit goes a long way.
“The value of the Ryder Cup is the matches have been so close, even when the scores do not reflect that,” he said. “A missed putt here and there proves all the difference in a single match and these can add up to triumph or heartbreak.
“The US teams are always so strong and I have seen how Team Europe always manage to pull together as one in the face of adversity so effectively. Last time out under Thomas Bjorn in France, the players all arrived and simply decided to be one as a team, and they put a magnificent effort to defy the odds once again.
“There is always something magic about the Ryder Cup, and I always hope for a classic close contest to thrill the fans and show just what it means to be a team in golf — which is often a solitary sport.”