Sun not setting yet on Finchem as Tour commissioner

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During a ceremony last week at the Memorial, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem effortlessly worked the room in his signature understated style, mixing easily with both players and powerbrokers.

Although the event was held to honor Doc Giffin, Arnold Palmer’s longtime assistant, the moment did serve as an impromptu milestone for Finchem.

The 68-year-old began his 22nd year as commissioner on June 1 and, at least according to various observers and assorted tealeaves, his final year in the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., big chair.

Finchem signed a four-year contract extension in 2012 and many figured it would be the former White House deputy advisor’s swansong tour.

“We haven’t made any final decision yet. The transition planning is coming along very nicely,” Finchem told GolfChannel.com. “We have a really strong group so I don’t think there is any down side to any particular time that I step aside.”

The transition Finchem referred to gained momentum last year when Jay Monahan was appointed the circuit’s deputy commissioner, making the former tournament director Finchem’s heir apparent.

In quintessential Finchem style, the commissioner has been carefully and meticulously laying the groundwork for his potential exit.

Earlier this season he convinced Davis Love III, who turned 51 in April and is making his own transition to the Champions Tour, to run for chairman of the player advisory council which has paved the way for the veteran to become a member of the policy board next year.

“I was chairman of the PAC the year [1994] he was brought in to be commissioner, and it’s just to see the transition go back the other way. It’s important to me and to [Finchem] to have guys on the policy board that have experience in a transition time,” Love said. “Everyone assumes it’s [Monahan], but whoever is picked it will be nice to have some guys with experience [on the policy board].”

For all of Finchem’s planning, however, he didn’t exactly sound like a man poised on the precipice of his golden years last week at Muirfield Village.

“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.

“I don’t have to see them through, but I’d like to get both of them on the right track and I want to work with Jay in a couple of areas, so how that pans out in terms of time I’m not quite certain yet.”

Although Finchem would not say what those “big” projects might be, it seems likely his primary focus the next few months will be on resigning FedEx as the umbrella sponsor of the Tour’s season-long race.

In February 2012, the logistics firm agreed to a five-year contract extension through the 2017 season and given Finchem’s involvement in the circuit’s move to the season-long competition which began in 2007 it’s likely he would want to assure its future before stepping down.

It’s unclear what other projects might keep Finchem at the helm through next June. The Tour’s current television contracts with NBC, Golf Channel and CBS all run through 2021 and golf’s spot in the Olympics, which the commissioner oversaw, is assured through the 2020 Games in Japan.

Although Finchem’s current contract was for four years, he said the nine-member policy board, which would need to approve any extension and includes four player directors, would not be bound by any time requirements.

“I might stay another year or so after next year, I might move on next year. We’ll have to wait and see,” said Finchem, who added that a decision would likely be made by the end of the year. “I think the board would be comfortable with whatever Jay and I recommend.”

Perhaps the most telling sign that Finchem may not be ready to step down just yet came when he was asked what he would consider his legacy after more than two decades 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.”

And it appears the man who is already scheduled to stay in the job two years longer than his mentor, Deane Beman, whom he succeeded as commissioner, might not be done working his butt off just yet.