Finchem and Woods have media face off


DUBLIN, Ohio – At promptly 3:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem sat down at the dais in the Muirfield Village Golf Club interview room and announced one of golf’s worst-kept secrets. Within minutes, Fred Couples and Nick Price were introduced as the newest Presidents Cup captains, joining Finchem in the news conference as they were peppered with questions about next year’s competition at this very venue.

A half-hour later, the two captains were still spinning yarns and dropping hints; Price spoke about the time he angrily broke a putter in front of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, while Couples let slip that he will likely be an assistant to old buddy Davis Love III at this year’s Ryder Cup.

Meanwhile, some 2,100 miles across the country, Tiger Woods had convened on a reddish-orange couch in a lounge at The Olympic Club, site of next month’s U.S. Open and host to his practice round earlier in the day. He glared into a computer screen, not to watch the captains’ news conference, but to host a Google Plus “hangout” during which he answered questions from fans.

Video: Google ... Plus Tiger

For nearly 15 minutes, the two events coincided – a confluence of old media standard and new media strategy, staring each other down from 10 paces with pistols drawn.

Throughout his professional career, Woods has often separated himself from the masses with his on-course performance. In this particular instance, he was separated by distance and content, a voluntary isolation that could serve as a career-long metaphor.

It wasn’t that the timing of his “hangout” was especially wrong; it was just … awkward.

Even Finchem, never one to heap criticism upon the Tour’s biggest moneymaker, was left stretching to explain how the overlap of the two public performances made sense.

“We’d like for our top, star players to coordinate things with what’s going on,” the commissioner said privately afterward. “I don’t know to what extent it was a problem, though.”

Perhaps muddying that image was the fact that the Tour’s own website and Twitter feed were promoting the conflicting events, allowing interested observers an opportunity to choose between the two mediums.

Before posting something to your own website or Twitter feed taking offense to any offense taken, understand that any confusion here is more about the timing of the two events rather than Woods’ decision to forgo traditional media or the actual execution of his live chat.

The truth is, it was abundantly more palatable than the recent 14-minute video that featured Woods alone, answering questions in what appeared more hostage video than “hangout.” With journalist Mark Soltau serving as moderator and television commentator Roger Maltbie proffering a few queries, the production value was greatly enhanced from its previous version.

Though the page’s comments section was riddled with an amalgamation of posts that ranged from the old standby “you da man” to the new adaptation “Tiger! Follow me on Twitter!” to the banal “fire foley” in addition to plenty of lewd comments, his message came across loud and clear. Woods wants to interact more directly with the fans – and if that means cutting out the middle man of traditional media, well, then so be it.

“Absolutely, I’m going to do this more often in the future,” Woods stated near the end of the chat. “It’s fantastic for us to be able to reach out to fans. … We want to let them ask questions and let them feel like they’re part of the process as well.”

Meanwhile, the news conference continued in Ohio with nary a mention of Tiger’s name until the very end – and only circumstantially. It left the “hangout” with the same feeling as if MTV had announced its music award nominees during the very same time that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was having its induction ceremony.

Granted, only Couples perfectly fits the rock star analogy, but the simultaneous nature of the two performances certainly struck the wrong chord.

It may have struck a bigger one if other principal figures were briefed on the overlapping scenarios.

“I don’t know anything about the timing,” Finchem said. “As far as doing it, you know, we’ve got a lot of players doing it. It’s just that he’s Tiger Woods, so if he does it, everybody’s eyes are on him. It doesn’t bother me. People like that stuff today. I’m not versed in the content they went over today or anything like that or whether he made any announcements, but just in terms of the overall structure of the way to reach fans, on the surface at least, I don’t think it’s much different from Stewart Cink being on Twitter all the time.”

There’s nothing wrong with the PGA Tour holding a news conference to announce the upcoming Presidents Cup captains, even if they were hardly a surprise. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with Woods holding an online chat to interact with his fans. The confluence of events which saw them coincide with each other on Tuesday, though – the game’s most popular player potentially upstaging an important announcement – could have shown better timing without robbing anyone of either message.