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O'Grady set to follow in Schofield's footsteps

When European Tour supremo Ken Schofield retires at the end of this season after 30 years at the helm, his successor George O'Grady plans to take over in seamless fashion.

O'Grady, the tour's deputy executive director, has worked closely with Schofield throughout his tenure and says he will follow the structures that have made the European Tour financially strong.

In a wide-ranging interview with Reuters, O'Grady discussed his vision of the future, the challenge posed by the more lucrative PGA Tour in the United States and Europe's new Ryder Cup qualification criteria for 2004.

"You've got to remember it's not as if I'm just off the street," Singapore-born O'Grady said in the build-up to this month's U.S. Masters.

"I've worked with Ken for 30 years in different roles. You do less time for murder, virtually.

"In that time we have been a partnership, so it will be reasonably inconceivable that the same framework is not adhered to."

O'Grady added his immediate challenge would be to sustain what has already been achieved on the European Tour.

"I think maintain stability, structure the business so that we have a very strong and loyal work force, all of whom have been there for quite some time," he said.

"We have to create a tour that continues to be attractive to as wide a range of players as we possibly can and put an elite structure in a sound way that can keep our own members secure and happy."

Since Schofield succeeded John Jacobs as executive director on January 1 1975, he has been instrumental in increasing the tour's annual prize fund from around 430,000 pounds ($770,300) to a record 72 million pounds ($129 million) last year.

The European Tour is second only in stature behind the PGA Tour and O'Grady believes its expansion across the globe ranks as one of Schofield's greatest achievements.

"He had the vision to widen the tour, basically from its roots of April through to early October to nearly a year-round season," O'Grady said.

"You certainly can't play in Britain really before May and you struggle even in Spain to play in February. So we have to look for opportunities elsewhere.

"The widening of the tour was specifically to get competition for our players ahead of the first U.S. major, the Masters, so that if they couldn't play in America, they came into the Masters battle-hardened.

"That vision also extends to getting more and more of our players to play in all majors and specifically the American majors, which makes you a global player and gets you recognised on the world stage."

In recent years, Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal, Germany's Bernhard Langer, Swedes Jesper Parnevik and Fredrik Jacobson and Britain's Darren Clarke have switched focus to the greener pastures of the PGA Tour.

This, O'Grady readily admits, is a concern: "It stiffens the resolve of everybody connected with the European Tour to continue to make our tour and our elite tournaments better.

"You can't sit there and say we want you to come home unless what we're putting on at home is the very best it can be. The leading players that I've talked to understand what we're trying to do in the European Tour.

"But the scale of the operation in America and the money in America is a tough one for anybody to take on."

With many of Europe's leading players spending more time in the United States, new qualification criteria have been implemented for this year's Ryder Cup, to be played from September 17-19.

O'Grady feels the changes, brought in to enhance selection prospects for the likes of Garcia and Jacobson, are sound. However, they should be assessed after this year's showdown at Oakland Hills Country Club in Detroit, Michigan, he added.

"We haven't actually used this system at all yet," he said. "I want to see how this works, and see what satisfaction people find in it come September.

"I'm happy with the selection criteria. They look very solid and I think they should be given a chance to do the job for at least one, if not two matches, before any changes."

The 2004 European team will comprise the top five players in a Ryder Cup world points list, the leading five not otherwise qualified in a Ryder Cup European points list plus two captain's picks.

Previously, the European team comprised the top 10 in the order of merit and two wildcard choices.

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