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With PGA tour commissioner Tim Finchem recently getting a four year extension, the internet is ablaze with assessments of Mr. Finchem’s performance during his tenure.  I thought I’d give a couple opposing opinions and then my own.  The sport of golf here in the states is spearheaded by the (American) PGA tour, and the golfers of the tour become our role models, idols, coaches and friends.  The decisions made by Finchem as leader of the tour have direct and important implications on the state of the game.  So how is he doing?

First up, Geoff Shackelford of www.geoffshackelford.com and Golf Digest provided this summary.


“…As longtime readers know, I haven’t been able to get excited about the Commissioner’s ability to lead for some time. A few highlights for review…

–He consistently resisted drugtesting while insisting distance gains were the product of improved athleticism. To Finchem’s credit, he later backed off the resistance to testing when golf needed to join the modern sports world and has since acknowledged that the distance chase isn’t great for the PGA Tour “product”. 

–The lame-on-arrival FedExCup concept is a Finchem brainchild, and while it certainly brings players together at the end of the PGA Tour season, the convoluted format has not improved and manages to make the moribund BCS look like a well-conceived athletic competition.

–Finchem has continued to rake in a big salary with lavish perks as he ushered out many low-paid and longtime employees under the guise of “early retirement”. If he fulfills his current contract, it’ll be well past the same retirement age  he has used to weed out staff or those within “striking distance” of retirement age.

–Finchem publicly issued an edict to denouncing the PGA Tour rules calling for slow play penalties.  There has not been a slow play penalty during Finchem’s tenure and there will not be one issued for another four years even as the World’s No. 1 is calling it the game’s top issue. I can’t fathom how the Commissioner can public suggest a rule not be enforced as a possible cure for a problem.

–There’s the sense that the PGA Tour “product” is in need of new energy and I can’t envision a scenario where we see a renewed jolt coming from the Commissioner’s office, especially when we see creative solutions to business problems like the current Q-School squashing concept.  

And finally, there’s the increasing likelihood that The First Tee is going to be Finchem’s legacy project over the next four years.  Can the tour afford to have their growth-obsessed leader devoting so much energy to a cause that so far has not proven successful in growing the game? We shall see.”


Ron Sirak of Golf Digest and Golf World had an alternate opinion here:


“Since taking over from Deane Beman in 1994, Finchem has also been instrumental in the development of the World Golf Hall of Fame, The First Tee, The International Federation of Tours and the creation of the World Golf Championships, the FedEx Cup and the shared charity initiative with players under the tagline, “Together, Anything’s Possible.”

When Finchem took over in 1994, the total purse on the PGA Tour was $56.4 million. Last year it was $280 million. A month after Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes and pulled a Sunday TV rating of 14.1 — the largest ever for a golf tournament — Finchem sat the network folks down and negotiated a TV deal that increased prize money from $96.4 million in 1998 to $135 million in 1999.

Yes, he had Tiger to market, but he and his team knew how to market him. In many ways, Finchem is like Paul Tagliabue, who took over as NFL commissioner after Pete Rozelle stepped down. Tim was handed a very good product by Beman and his job was, first off, to not mess it up, and then to figure out how to make it better. He did both, and that is not as easy as Finchem’s critics would like to make it seem…

Now, that group will have Finchem at the helm for four more years. And that can only be a good thing. Who knows what TV delivery will look like in 2021? Finchem has brought the PGA Tour to the brink of a new frontier. Now he will lead them a few steps further before handing over the reigns to someone else. That stability is a large part of the PGA Tour’s strength.”


From my point of view the measure of Tim Finchem’s effectiveness comes down to how you define his job.  If you think his job is to put money in the pockets of tour players, facilitate sponsorship, and maintain the squeaky clean image of the tour’s personalities then I’d say he’s doing great. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of financial stability. The problem is that it’s often assumed that best interests of the PGA tour and the game of golf are always aligned.  What happens when they’re not?
Example:  Finchem has essentially issued a moratorium on slow play penalties (see Shackelford’s comments above).  This maintains the image of the PGA tours stars and avoids the potential for negative publicity should a major be won or lost due to a penalty still seen as “discourteous”.    Obviously, slow play is terrible for the game as a whole and is the biggest reason I hear for people leaving the game.  This is the opposite of growing the game…people who love the game are refusing to play or completely giving it up because they don’t have the time or patience for 5 1/2 or 6 hour rounds.
Another example is the ever-present distance chase and the inability to curtail technology.  Payments from equipment companies keep tour players paid and happy but keep golf courses scrambling to renovate for more distance.  The end results for 99.9% of golfers are increased green fees and longer rounds.  Mr. Finchem probably believes in his heart of hearts that continued distance increases are bad, yet he is conflicted…he doesn’t want hurt the players’ endorsements by souring the relationship between them and their sponsors.
So, in summary, my sense is that Mr. Finchem is a shrewd businessman who puts the financial well being of the tour first and foremost and allocates remaining resources to “growing the game” in the only manner he can: unproven programs like The First Tee.  I don’t think he’s a bad guy for this.  However, I tend to measure the state of the game in terms other than financial and at its core the modern game is hurting.  I count myself lucky to be one of the small percentage of golfers in my generation  to have been exposed to the joys of other, more traditional forms of golf and look forward to a time when the goals of the very best players and their tour align with the best interests of the game as a whole.

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