Commentary

Work remains for Tim Finchem

Updated: January 12, 2012, 12:29 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

The contract extension he signed several years ago seemed to be perfectly timed for PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem: It would end the year he turned 65, and after the sometimes-volatile network television negotiations were concluded.

So as 2012 drew closer, it was natural to ask Finchem whether he planned to continue or walk off into the sunset, his goals accomplished, a robust golf tour left for somebody else to run.

Sometimes he joked about wanting to die in office. Other times he said he purposely was not thinking about it yet. Ultimately, Finchem said, it would come down to his desire to continue -- and the desire of the players and the PGA Tour's policy board to keep him.

"As long as our team here is comfortable with my leadership, then I will most likely be open to staying," he said. "But those are big ifs."

Apparently not that big.

The PGA Tour announced Wednesday that Finchem's contract, which was set to expire at the end of the year, has been renewed for another four years, taking him through the 2016 season. Finchem turns 65 in April, and if he completes the new term, he will have been in the position for 22 years.

Finchem is only the third commissioner in the tour's history, following Joe Dey and former player Deane Beman, who gave way to Finchem in 1994 after his own 20-year run. Dey became the first commissioner when the PGA Tour broke away from the PGA of America in 1968.

The tour has prospered under Finchem's leadership.

From total purses of $56 million his first year to some $290 million today; the formation of World Golf Championship events; the moving of the Players Championship to May; the growth of the Presidents Cup; the implementation of the FedEx Cup.

Sure, Finchem has had the great benefit of seeing Tiger Woods come along just a few years after he took the job. Woods turned pro in the summer of 1996, and Finchem was able to get record numbers in his TV deals due to the presence and history-making success of one of sports' most recognizable figures.

And that money trickles down to all the players, who saw huge increases in purses.

But Finchem has been at his best in recent years, when the economy suffered, when Woods' game slumped in the aftermath of personal issues, when sponsors were bailing on tour events and the networks pushed back on rights fees.

Despite the huge fees associated with sponsoring golf, Finchem has managed to keep a full schedule of sponsored events. Whenever a title sponsor leaves, Finchem and the tour seem to find someone to step in and cover the cost. Despite fears that tough television contract negotiations were on tap, Finchem announced this past fall (well before this year's expiration) that a deal had been renewed through 2021 -- or nine years beyond the current one.

That basically means the tour can continue to thrive in the current format and that the purses likely will continue to inch up beyond the $5 million range we see for regular events today.

Undoubtedly, there are those who have had their issues with Finchem over the years. Greg Norman might have been the most outspoken. When Norman proposed a World Tour in 1994 that would be outside the bounds of the PGA Tour, Finchem fought it, making it clear that PGA Tour members would not be freely allowed to compete in events that were opposite PGA Tour events.

Norman's idea, which had star appeal, threatened to undermine regular PGA Tour events, which are about not just the stars, but the rank-and-file players who make up the bulk of the fields. Norman's idea died -- and five years later, Finchem incorporated world events into the PGA Tour schedule.

While Finchem is clearly aware the big names drive interest, he also has looked out for the little guy, striving to make golf a lucrative pursuit for those able to shoot the scores. And make no mistake, despite all the talk about charitable giving and the First Tee program and numerous initiatives the tour has been part of, the No. 1 mandate is to provide playing opportunities for members.

Through licensing deals, the continued growth of PGA Tour-owned golf properties, a production company, and a senior tour (Champions Tour) and developmental tour (Nationwide Tour), the tour is a billion-dollar-plus business.

There are constantly issues in the game to be discussed, and how Finchem has handled them can be debated.

He's been too soft on slow play, unwavering in not announcing player discipline, perhaps too firm with sponsors who were looking to catch a break during a horrible economy.

There have been spats about how many tournaments international players should be required to play, whether players should be required to add events they've not played, and whether the tour should set its own rules and forego those of the United States Golf Association.

"The bottom line is you're not going to make everybody happy,'' said veteran player Steve Flesch, a member of the Player Advisory Council, when asked once about the difficulty of the commissioner's job. "What's good for Tiger Woods isn't necessarily good for the guy who is 125th on the money list. The gripes that players have are mostly selfish.

"'If I'm not driving the ball well, I want less rough.' At the PAC meetings, we try to weed through that. [But] to find a guy with a better background is going to be hard."

Finchem has a law degree and served in President Jimmy Carter's administration. He later began doing business with the tour and then was brought on as Beman's deputy commissioner several years before ascending to the spot he's occupied since June 1, 1994.

Among his biggest tasks in the short term will be to renew the FedEx Cup deal and its whopping $35 million bonus payout. The winner of the FedEx Cup receives $10 million, and the four-tournament playoff series that concludes in September is now in its sixth year.

But the contract with FedEx expires after the 2012 Tour Championship, and it is unclear whether it will be extended as is or revamped, or whether a new sponsor will be necessary to prolong the program.

Given Finchem's track record, you figure whatever form the yearlong points race takes, it will be as good or better than what is in place now.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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