Finchem's legacy filled with far more highs than lows

By Rex HoggardMarch 30, 2016, 2:53 pm

For Tim Finchem, it was time.

After 22 years at the helm of the PGA Tour, the commissioner and chief announced last week he would be stepping down, although the exact exit moment remains to be seen.

For Finchem, who signed a one-year extension to his current contract that runs through June 1, 2017, the mind and body are willing but the skillsets required to run the world’s largest professional golf tour have changed dramatically.

To be blunt, he’s an analog executive in a digital world.

“For every organization there’s a time when it needs to morph. ... I can probably work another five or six years, but I don’t think that’s the best thing for the organization,” Finchem said.

For months, the 68-year-old has been a reluctant retiree. Last June, he started answering questions about what many considered his final year in the commissioner’s chair.

The answer was always coy and delivered with a healthy caveat.

“There are a couple of things I’m working on that I’d rather get a little further down the track and they are big things, so it’s a little early to say where they are going to be,” Finchem said last summer.

“I don’t have to see them through, but I’d like to get both of them on the right track.”

Last week he made similarly vague statements at the WGC-Dell Match Play, although it seems likely one of those “to do” items would address the early negotiations for the next round of television contracts. All of the Tour’s current television agreements with Golf Channel, NBC Sports and CBS Sports expire in 2021

“My plan would be – and that assumes I can make progress on my projects – to step aside at the end of this year,” Finchem said.

The circuit named Jay Monahan deputy commissioner and heir apparent two years ago and Finchem said last week that Monahan is now running the day-to-day operations of the Tour. Earlier this month at the WGC-Cadillac Championship he seemed to concede that the time is right for a new set of eyes and sensibilities.

“Jay Monahan is back there, he'll say, ‘OK, let's wipe the slates clean here and put down some things we never thought about,’” Finchem said. “I think in the years to come, you will see the Tour doing things that maybe right now you would be surprised that we would think in that context.”

Whatever projects Finchem hopes to complete before his swan song, his legacy has long been established.

When he took over the circuit in 1994 there were 44 events with $56.7 million in total purses. This year’s total take is 47 events with $327 million in purses, not to mention the $10 million-plus bounty in FedEx Cup bonus money.

Some will say Finchem was simply in the right place at the right time, taking over just two years before Tiger Woods joined the Tour and sent golf on a meteoric rise.

Lost in that translation, however, has been Finchem’s ability to navigate what were, by any definition, tough times.

When the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression gripped the world in 2008 Finchem was able to maintain the vast majority of sponsors largely without the stardom of Woods, who has played a complete season just three times since ’08 because of an assortment of injuries.

Finchem’s legacy includes the creation of the World Golf Championships, FedEx Cup, The First Tee and he helped return golf to the Olympics.

But last June as he entered what had originally been billed as his final term, Finchem appeared to be caught off guard when asked what his legacy would be as commissioner.

“I’ve never really thought about it in those terms,” he said. “If Peyton Manning is the quarterback and you go to the Super Bowl, he had a great season but there are 48 guys on the team.

“I’d like to think that when I get done, people look at me and say, ‘OK, he worked his butt off, a lot got done and the players and the stakeholders looked at his time and thought a good job was done for them.’”

That’s not to say Finchem’s tenure at the Tour has been without its share of peaks and valleys.

The 2001 legal wrangling with Casey Martin over his request to use a golf cart during Tour events will always represent a curious place to draw a line in the competitive sand; and the implementation of the circuit’s doping program in 2008 has been riddled with missteps and lawsuits.

Finchem’s dogged adherence to the you-can-ask-but-we-won’t-tell policy regarding player discipline and fines also feels arcane and outdated, but throughout all of the trials the commissioner has remained consistent.

The only difference in recent years as he’s inched his way toward retirement has been in his often-stoic demeanor. In many ways the commissioner has softened, either the result of time or the timing of his impending exit.

When asked about his contract status two weeks ago at Bay Hill, Finchem referred to the ongoing projects that will keep him in the job for at least the next few months before smiling, “Maybe [the policy board] wants to find someone who can get them done.”

He may not be done just yet, but it seems the commish is already enjoying his golden years.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”