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Is Guy Kinnings The Future Of The European Tour?

By John Hopkins   •   June 18, 2019

When the world of golf gathers for the Masters the great and the good prowl the lawn just outside the clubhouse, eager to sit at white tables shaded by parasols and be served by waiters in white jackets. The talking turkey, the money conversations involving lots of noughts, may be conducted in the Magnolia Suite not far away but the initial meeting and greeting and sounding out of one another takes place on the lawn under and near the famous old oak tree.

So it was that on Masters Saturday, Guy Kinnings, the newly appointed deputy chief executive of the European Tour, was doing what he does so well. Head untroubled by hair, glasses sliding down his nose, a smile on his face and suede shoes on his feet, Kinnings was in his element, meeting and greeting all and sundry. He didn’t wear a pink shirt, though he often does, and nor did he have on a (sometimes pink) tie, though he nearly always does because otherwise he does not feel as though he is working. Not for nothing does Tiger Woods call him “Pinky.”

In this environment Kinnings, a 55-year-old Englishman, the insider’s insider, looked completely at ease. He waved at acquaintances or got up to dart over and shake someone’s hand. People patted him on his back and said “hi” as they passed. One minute he was deep in conversation, the next he would pull a small notebook out of a jacket pocket and make notes on it in tiny, illegible handwriting. “Guy writes paragraphs on the back of a postage stamp,” Colin Montgomerie, a former client of Kinnings’ and a close friend for nearly 30 years, said.

This is one of his trademarks. Others include his preference to travel with very little luggage so that he does not have to waste time at airport carousels, the speed with which he deals with e-mails, and his determination to get home by a Saturday to spend time with his family, Rebecca “Becks” his wife, and the children, Harry 19, Bertie 16, and Phoebe 11, who is Montgomerie’s goddaughter.

There is one more idiosyncrasy. “I am a hoarder of really nice notepads,” Kinnings said. “I don’t trust myself with a really nice pen because I’ll leave it somewhere. Mark McCormack used to keep hotel keys. He would come back from a trip and put them in his office. I keep all the lanyards and hangtags I have collected from tournaments. I used to hang them on a wall at IMG and am going to do the same at the tour.”

At golf, Kinnings’s handicap is modest. At networking it is world-class. “His contacts?” Chubby Chandler, the agent, said, rolling his eyes. “Phoar! I’ve got wonderful contacts but he’s probably got a few more.”

It was at Augusta during the 2018 Masters that David Williams and Keith Pelley, chairman and CEO of the European Tour, respectively, noted Kinnings’s modus operandi – and were impressed.

“Guy has unique skill sets. Very few times do you see senior executives that have been involved in what he has been involved in, gone through so many tricky situations, and nobody says an ill word about him. His IQ is simply off the charts.
– European Tour CEO Keith Pelley

“By this time last year Keith and I had pretty much worked through a list of candidates (to succeed Richard Hills as Ryder Cup director),” Williams said. “We saw (Kinnings) operating at Augusta and we became even more aware … that here was a man whom everybody knew, whether they were a player, an agent, a manager, officials from other tours. Behind that bonhomie he knew their businesses as well. It was that combination of factors that we liked. I am delighted that in the 12 months that have passed that it has worked out as it has.”

“I was originally looking at him as Ryder Cup director,” Pelley said. “But I didn’t want to vertically silo Ryder Cup and European Tour, meaning that they would run in two separate organisations. I wanted to horizontally silo it. As we got into our conversation I said: ‘Listen, I have got to get you involved in the whole aspect of the business. I am going to be asking you for advice, thoughts. I am going to create this new role of deputy chief executive officer for you.’

“Guy has unique skill sets. Very few times do you see senior executives that have been involved in what he has been involved in, gone through so many tricky situations, and nobody says an ill word about him. His IQ is simply off the charts.

“I said to him, ‘There are no ties in our meetings,’ and he laughed. Ties are part of who he is. If I have glasses, he has ties.”

Rarely has an appointment been greeted with such acclamation.

“I thought it was a brilliant move,” Paul McGinley, member of the European Tour board of directors, said. “He is a perfect foil for Keith, a different animal in a business sense. Keith is more of a visionary, more of an aggressive gung-ho type, someone pushing it forward, coming at it from a different perspective, which is what you want from a chief executive. He hasn’t worked in the golf business before and having somebody on his shoulder like Guy is very important.”

Jay Monahan, commissioner of the PGA Tour, said: “There are a lot of people in this industry that have a lot of time for Guy Kinnings. He is a guy who has travelled all over the world on behalf of his clients, on behalf of players, on behalf of tournaments, on behalf of media partners. There is no job he won’t do to get the job done and that is an exceptional trait to have in a business that is multi-dimensional.

“He is a really practical guy. He is always prepared for discussion as exemplified by those notes. He is thorough in his follow-up. He’s worldly, a really interesting guy away from golf. A great family guy. I really admire Guy.”

Mark Steinberg, now a partner at Excel Sports Management, worked with Kinnings for 20 years at IMG: “I will tell you something about Kinnings (Steinberg often refers to people by their surname in a friendly way). He has got extreme scope and depth. Often times in people you see that breadth but there is no depth. He has depth in each of the areas he is involved in. You don’t come across that very often. He and Keith (Pelley) together look like they’re pretty formidable. The European Tour could not have made a better decision.”

Chubby Chandler: “Guy has got a range of skills that the ET needs. He has run golf tournaments, big accounts, hired players, hired people to look after players, sold sponsorship for players, sold sponsorship for tournaments. That is an unbelievable range of skills. It is the first time Pelley has had a really good shoulder to lean on for ET knowledge.

“There was a lot of clueless ones (at the European Tour) and there’s a lot of lazy ones. Slowly but surely they are disappearing. There is still a lack of real young energy. Guy is not young energy. He is old energy, old head. He knows what is going on. I think the ET is in seven out of 10 shape. Five years ago it was five out of 10, maybe even four. It was dead. It doesn’t feel dead anymore. It feels alive and lively.”

“I said to him, ‘There are no ties in our meetings,’ and he laughed. Ties are part of who he is. If I have glasses, he has ties.”
– European Tour CEO Keith Pelley

Kinnings was born in Wolverhampton and lived for his early childhood in a village called Albrighton. He went to a small local prep school where he would become head boy and remembers with typical self-deprecating humour that he captained the school cricket team to a winless season. “Billy Wright (the longtime England football captain) lived nearby and so did Emlyn Hughes, the Liverpool footballer,” he recalled.

To know Kinnings, it is necessary to know his parents and the influences and practices they each instilled into their older son. His mother, though small in stature, standing barely 5 feet, lacked nothing in determination. As a mature student she had gone back to Birmingham University to train to teach children with learning difficulties. It was she who determined the path of her two boys’ education. Nothing would deter her. She and her husband moved house from the Black Country to Shropshire so that Guy and Max, his brother, could attend Shrewsbury School.

“My brother and I were incredibly lucky,” Guy Kinnings said. “Our parents drove 120 miles a day on some of the busiest roads in Europe so that Max (the younger brother who is now head of creative writing at Brunel University and co-wrote Rik Mayall’s autobiography, Bigger than Hitler, Better than Christ) and I could go to Shrewsbury.”

At Shrewsbury, Guy did Latin and Greek at A level and got into Oxford to do what was then known as jurisprudence and is now simply law. “I did it so long ago they didn’t break them down between a first, a 2:1, a 2:2 and so on,” Kinnings said, alluding to the UK’s degree classifications. “My tutor kindly assured me it was a decent 2:1.”

Radcliffe Camera and surrounding buildings at Oxford University where Kinnings studied law. Photo: MinistryOfJoy,

His father, the sporty parent, was the sales director of a company that made metal lockers. If he gave his older son only one piece of advice that piece was priceless. “Without any doubt Dad taught me it doesn’t matter who anyone is, you treat them the same.”

And then he is off, telling a story about a lesson he learned when he was a teenager, one that has lasted his entire life.

“When I was at Shrewsbury, Dad fixed up for me to go back to the factory during the holidays to work as a welder. The guy I worked with at the start knew I was going to Oxford to study law.

“He said to me one day: ‘I hear you’re a lawyer.’

“ ‘Yes, I am,’ I said. I was a pompous little prat.

“He said. ‘I’m in court next week.’

“‘What for?’ I asked. ‘Road traffic offence?’

“’No,’ he said. ‘Grievous bodily harm.’

“The first morning we were put into teams and the team next to us made 17 lockers when we were still on our first. I had welded the door facing outwards. It was completely unusable. By the end we were cracking out these lockers at a proper rate. It’s those little experiences that are important. It’s respecting people, knowing what they do.”

“I am a hoarder of really nice notepads. I don’t trust myself with a really nice pen because I’ll leave it somewhere."
– Guy Kinnings

After Oxford, Kinnings first joined a firm of London solicitors before moving to the legal department of IMG. It was there that he caught the eye of Alistair Johnston.

“I pulled him out of the legal department to be an agent and he grew into becoming a very well-rounded executive and a respected person in the golf world who could deal with individuals and institutions very effectively,” said Johnston, Arnold Palmer’s longtime agent. “With a legal mind and I would call a very appealing personality, he was a good client guy.”

Soon he was looking after Montgomerie (and being best man at Montgomerie’s second wedding) and his skill at both earned him Johnston’s admiration as well as Montgomerie’s.

“I think the length of time he spent with Colin Montgomerie and supported him, on and off the course, through challenges, successes and failures, was very commendable,” Johnston said. “Colin is not the easiest guy to deal with. But (Kinnings) got into Colin’s personality and got Colin relying on him and trusting him.”

“He understood me and I understood him,” Montgomerie said. “We went together, similarly educated, university educated, that type of thing. It was an easy fit. I suppose he had more cross words with me than I did with him. Crumbs! You can’t live 25 years in the public eye without the odd regret. He would say ‘Oh, come on’ or ‘What the hell’ or whatever. It was always friendly, over a pint of beer rather than ‘Come into my office.’

Kinnings and Colin Montgomerie at the 2002 Dubai Desert Classic Photo: David Cannon, Getty Images

“He always felt I employed him. He was very aware of that and that was a good thing. A lot of agents and client managers feel they are in charge. He felt it was the other way round and he was right.”

Being able to mix with people is a lesson well learned because Kinnings’ ability to do that and be genial with anyone has been noted time and again. “He is very well liked and very well respected and those are two things that are not easy to accomplish,” Steinberg said. “You can be well respected and not liked and liked but not respected. He has both.”

“Guy is someone you could rely on in any situation,” Montgomerie said. “He was never short of a line. He was never caught out in the English language. We travelled the world for 15, 16 years, perhaps 20, and I was never on edge that he might say the wrong thing. We met presidents, heads of state, all sorts of interesting people. We were trying to do deals with everybody and anybody, golf course designers, property developers, owners of land in China and the Philippines. There was never a time when I was worried about Guy and the way that my brand was going to be put across. That was his biggest asset. He could talk to anyone on their level.”

McGinley says that business is “all about relationships and the European Tour has always been a relationship business. It’s about having a big network, having and maintaining relationships, and Guy is very good at that.”

People in golf like Kinnings. More than that, they respect him. “He is a fair guy,” Chandler said. “He was my biggest client for a while. Think about it. They (IMG) had to come to me. When we had Rory (McIlroy), Lee (Westwood), Darren (Clarke), Charl (Schwartzel), Louis (Oosthuizen), that was chunks of appearance fees. Who was paying them all? IMG.

“The world to me lacks respect,” Chandler continued. “Guy and I have always respected each other. We almost had an agreement that we wouldn’t go for the same man on turning pro just because it wasn’t worth it. We said to him if you’re going after somebody we’ll back off.”

When Kinnings was doing deals for his clients he had his own style. “He always left something on the table,”  Johnston, Kinnings’ boss for a while at IMG, said. “He didn’t want everything. When I started working for Arnold he said to me, ‘I want you to be the meanest, toughest, sonofabitch negotiator ever. No holds are to be barred. Get ’em, get me the best deal ever – but be a very nice guy doing it.’

“Guy always thought it was in the best long-term interest of his client or whoever he was representing that they got something out of the deal. Reputation in this business is a function of building relationships. And Guy was very good at building relationships. Even today where technology has taken over in so many areas, there is no substitute for building good interpersonal relationships.”

(from left) Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Kinnings, Renato Paratore and Eddie Pepperell at the 2015 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship Photo: Ross Kinnaird, Getty Images

“I have been in negotiations with Guy sitting opposite prospective sponsors and affiliations and I always felt they were getting more than they were giving,” Montgomerie said. “Guy made them feel ‘My God, you’re getting a good deal here, however much it was.’ I am sure when we walked out the door we were happy and so were they.”

Steinberg and Kinnings ran IMG’s worldwide golf division, becoming good friends in the process. In those days the ether was crackling with messages from one to the other at almost any time of the day or night.

“Because of the way he worked and the way I worked I would say it was fair game to be on e-mail or calls with Kinnings from 5 a.m. in New York to 1 a.m. my time,” Steinberg said. “There’s time for a good four hours’ sleep in there. He’s a workaholic and so am I. I don’t know if there are two people who respond to e-mails or calls quicker than Kinnings or myself.”

Kinnings brings with him one other advantage. He is seen by almost everyone as the perfect successor to Pelley if the Canadian moves on ...

Kinnings’s title is deputy chief executive of the European Tour and as such he has a big job on his hands. What should he do?

“I want him to support Pelley, full stop,” Chandler said. “Keith has loads of energy. He needs somebody to put those ideas into operation or tell him they’re no good. The thing with Keith is that he makes 10 decisions a day. Six or seven will be good and four will be bad and he needs someone to guide him through those.

“I like Keith enormously. I think he has been a breath of fresh air for the tour and one of the reasons why their social media is so fantastic. But I think the (European) Challenge Tour needs sorting out. It’s dead on its feet. I know that because I’ve got a few Challenge Tour players. It’s tough to sell.”

But it is the three words that follow Kinnings’s title that are almost as important. He is “Ryder Cup director” and get him on the subject of the biennial match against the Americans and he is as hard to stop as a runaway train.

“Three weeks into my new job and I got to go to (Le Golf) National (for the 2018 Ryder Cup),” Kinnings said. “I could hardly believe it. For us, in Europe, it was a benchmark. All the research show it was an amazing experience. But you still had a sense there is more that can be done.

Kinnings at the 2018 Ryder Cup Photo: Andrew Redington, Getty Images

“It is an amazing asset, the one time that non-golfers get drawn in and become golf fans. That tribal atmosphere. I get a sense that with our partners, the PGA of America, with a global approach, so much more can be done. If you put on a tournament how do you make it more than just one week? Half a week before and half a week after. Maybe it’s a two-week event. You try and stretch it through the year. Most think of it as a three-day event. Maybe there is more you can do in terms of what you add to the week as Augusta have done with the Women’s Amateur.

“The Ryder Cup lends itself to this because there are spikes of interest. You select the captain, the vice captains. You select the venues. You start picking wild cards. All these events in themselves are notable and build to a pinnacle.

“You have to protect the sanctity of the sporting contest. It’s amazing. Don’t go playing with it. Nurture it. But there is an ability to build more around it. Build a new team. Get the right partners. The PGA of America have announced their venues to 2026. We haven’t announced ours beyond 2022 which creates an amazing opportunity to look at where to go.”

There is a general confidence that Kinnings will do a good job. “I think he’ll sell (the Ryder Cup) better,” Chandler said. “He’ll get more partners in. I think the organisation is fine. (Ryder Cup match director) Edward Kitson does a great job. If you think about it, Guy has been doing partnerships for the R&A for about 10 years. The Ryder Cup is easier than that. He’ll be great at it.”

The encomiums for Kinnings have come from many people. They can’t all be wrong.

Kinnings brings with him one other advantage. He is seen by almost everyone as the perfect successor to Pelley if the Canadian moves on, though both Williams and Pelley himself say there are no such plans in the immediate future.

“Could Guy do my job?” Pelley asked. “Absolutely. Would I be flattered if Guy took over my role? No question. At this particular time we are working together famously as a team and we have too many things to accomplish before I set sail back to Toronto – if in fact I ever do. My wife and daughter love it here. And my boy will go to college here.”

Nevertheless, the impression is that Kinnings is, in Shakespearean terms, the Black Prince, the heir apparent.

“I can’t see anybody near him for that job and certainly not in three or four years,” Chandler said. “I know Keith is happy in London and he has got the most fantastic wife. She is unbelievably supportive and fun. I think he listens to her at times. My guess is that Keith will finish up in 2022. He’ll get to (the Ryder Cup in) Italy and that’ll be it.”

When so many people say so many nice things about one person, an inevitable question arises: can it be true? The encomiums for Kinnings have come from many people. They can’t all be wrong. Like Pelley’s Canadian Mounties, who always get their man, the European Tour have done just that. They have their man – for now, the next few years and maybe after that as well.

Kinnings with Pawan Munjal, chairman of Hero MotoCorp (center), and Keith Pelley at the 2019 Hero Challenge  Photo: Andrew Redington, Getty Images