Despite detractors, Finchem leaves Tour better off

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2016, 9:00 pm

ATLANTA – The knock against Tim Finchem for the better part of two decades has been that he lacks a sense of humor. That assessment didn’t exactly change on Tuesday at East Lake, but it did improve, however slightly.

In what was billed as Finchem’s final “formal” news conference as PGA Tour commissioner, the 69-year-old attempted to alter his public persona by reading a series of pointed comments from various media, be it social or otherwise.

“Wake me when Tim Finchem is finished speaking, #InductionCeremony,” read one observation.

Another seemed to cut a little too close to home: “The more I study this Tim Finchem transcript on the anchoring issue, the more I like Bud Selig.”

“That one really hurts, actually,” Finchem frowned.

And finally, “Will Tim Finchem ever retire, or will he take Queen Elizabeth's method of ruling until death?”

“I used to threaten to do that, but then I realized, if I tried it, someone would probably kill me anyway,” Finchem laughed.

Actually, Finchem’s retirement has been looming for some time. In March, the Tour named Jay Monahan the circuit’s deputy commissioner and chief operating officer to solidify a succession plan, and Finchem was given a one-year extension to his current contract that expires next June to allow him to tie up some loose ends.

If the tone of Tuesday’s news conference was any indication, Finchem will be stepping down well before next summer. In fact, it seems likely that he’ll turn the keys to the kingdom over to Monahan at the end of this year, which at least partially explains his uncharacteristically comic approach at East Lake.

In his two decades running the show, Finchem has largely avoided levity of any kind. It must have been a lawyer thing, or maybe he’d just never taken the time to see the lighter side of the business.

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Time, however, is about to become a commodity for Finchem.

“I'll try to reverse the ratio of practicing golf and playing golf, which I get a fair amount of practice in. I don't get to play very much,” Finchem said of his plan for his golden years.

He’ll also take some time to reflect on what has been an eventful tenure at the Tour. Until now, that kind of contemplation has been a luxury Finchem hasn’t had much interest in making.

Even on Tuesday, on the eve of his final turn as commissioner at an event he helped transition from a sleepy way to put a bow on the season to a cash grab that has made golf relevant during a time of year that is ruled by football, Finchem was still viewing things from 30,000 feet.

Asked what he considers his legacy, Finchem spoke of the Tour “team,” the impact the circuit has had on growing the game and deferred to his predecessor Deane Beman.

“Deane Beman is a legacy. When Deane Beman became commissioner in '74, the net worth of the PGA Tour was $150,000,” Finchem said.

Although Beman’s impact on the growth of the Tour is legendary, the facts suggest Finchem might be playing the modesty card. In 2014, the Tour reported $2.21 billion in total assets according to the circuit’s tax filings.

It’s no secret that the Tour’s meteoric rise dovetailed with Tiger Woods’ climb to stardom, and many mistakenly attribute the circuit’s growth entirely to the former world No. 1; but that ignores Finchem’s savvy ability to sidestep predictable growing pains.

“[Woods’] domination at a time when you're bringing more and more good players along, is incredible. It lifted all boats,” Finchem said. “By '98, Tiger was dominant. So the questions were, How do you manage to grow the Tour when your dominant player is playing 17 or 18 times and you have 46 events? How does that work?”

In the 20 years since Woods joined the Tour, the number of events has remained virtually unchanged, with the ’96 schedule featuring 48 official events compared to this year’s 46 tournaments.

The FedEx Cup, which entered its 10th season this year, is probably Finchem’s most high-profile addition to the Tour landscape, with the four-event postseason checking all the right boxes – meaningful golf that includes nearly all of the top players late into the fall.

Finchem also oversaw the introduction of the World Golf Championships, the growth of the Presidents Cup, The Players transition to May, the creation of the First Tee and golf’s return to the Olympics.

But it hasn’t always been unicorns and rainbows for Finchem in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

There have been missteps under his watch, perhaps the most glaring of those was the 2001 lawsuit filed by Casey Martin to use a golf cart in Tour events. Whatever the reason Finchem & Co. felt compelled to dig in against what has been a non-issue ever since, the circuit was left to look like bullies in the end.

Similarly, Vijay Singh’s ongoing lawsuit against the Tour over his run-in with the organization’s anti-doping program is starting to look similarly shortsighted; and there are those who contend the commissioner doesn’t look out for the rank-and-file players.

But even Finchem’s most vocal detractors concede that he’s been a savvy leader through some difficult times, like the economic crisis in 2008 that coincided with Woods’ competitive struggles.

Despite the worst financial environment since the Great Depression, Finchem’s Tour didn’t lose a single tournament or playing opportunity for its members.

Whatever Finchem’s legacy, he left the Tour better then it was when he took over, and in the ultimate nod to his leadership abilities he also realizes the need for new ideas.

Never much for jokes, Finchem wrapped up his final news conference with a similarly out-of-character smile, “It's time for the organization to continue to morph. That's more important.”

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.