When I see the name "Tim Finchem" appear on my cell phone, I stop what I'm doing to take the call. He is, after all, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, and he doesn't call me all that often. A couple weeks before this particular phone call, when he announced the new nine-year TV deal with CBS and NBC, I asked Tim what it might mean for his future, knowing that his contract expired in June 2012. He said he'd get back to me. And he did.
"If I am feeling good, if the players are comfortable with the idea and if the board is willing, I will stay on," Finchem, who turns 65 in April, told me that day last September. Well, apparently Tim feels good and the players are comfortable with the idea because today the PGA Tour Policy Board announced a four-year extension of Finchem's contract through June 2016.
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images
"Under Tim's leadership, and that of his executive team, the PGA Tour has achieved many very significant accomplishments," Victor Ganzi, chairman of the Policy Board, said in a release announcing Finchem's contract extension. "Tim has positioned the tour for continued growth in areas such as prize money, charity, sponsor value and growing the game around the world, and we are fortunate that he has agreed to continue as commissioner another four years."
All of that is true. The PGA Tour survived the recession so well in part because many years ago Finchem told players that they shouldn't want every nickel of incoming revenue to go back out in prize money. He urged them to put some of it away in a war chest for the inevitable rainy day. This guy was an economist for President Jimmy Carter. He knows about rainy days.
That deluge came in September 2008 when the global economy collapsed. During the economic downturn, the PGA Tour was able to float four tournaments and get them through to the other side.
Two of those -- the stops at Palm Springs and Hilton Head -- now have vibrant new sponsors in Humana, the health benefits provider, and the Clinton Foundation for what was the Bob Hope and the Royal Bank of Canada for the Heritage at Harbour Town.
Since taking over from Deane Beman in 1994, Finchem has also been instrumental in the development of the World Golf Hall of Fame, The First Tee, The International Federation of Tours and the creation of the World Golf Championships, the FedEx Cup and the shared charity initiative with players under the tagline, "Together, Anything's Possible."
When Finchem took over in 1994, the total purse on the PGA Tour was $56.4 million. Last year it was $280 million. A month after Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes and pulled a Sunday TV rating of 14.1 -- the largest ever for a golf tournament -- Finchem sat the network folks down and negotiated a TV deal that increased prize money from $96.4 million in 1998 to $135 million in 1999.
Yes, he had Tiger to market, but he and his team knew how to market him. In many ways, Finchem is like Paul Tagliabue, who took over as NFL commissioner after Pete Rozelle stepped down. Tim was handed a very good product by Beman and his job was, first off, to not mess it up, and then to figure out how to make it better. He did both, and that is not as easy as Finchem's critics would like to make it seem.
One of the side benefits of the nine-year TV deal -- the CBS, NBC and Golf Channel contracts now expire simultaneously in 2021 -- is that the tour can extend Finchem's contract four years and still have five years for his successor to get his feet on the ground before the next TV talks.
"The important thing to remember is that no matter what happens with me, the team did such a great job in extending our title sponsorships and making this TV contract happen will still be in place," Finchem told me in that September phone call. "They are a wonderfully talented group."
Now, that group will have Finchem at the helm for four more years. And that can only be a good thing. Who knows what TV delivery will look like in 2021? Finchem has brought the PGA Tour to the brink of a new frontier. Now he will lead them a few steps further before handing over the reigns to someone else. That stability is a large part of the PGA Tour's strength-- Ron Sirak