November 12, 2007

PGA Tour Policy Board Makes Changes

FedEx payouts, schedule changes and drug policy are addressed by professional golf's governing body

Golf World's Bob Verdi reports on PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem's view of the changes:

Commissioner Tim Finchem said he does not particularly care for drug testing because "it is inconsistent and counter-intuitive to everything golf is about." However, he stressed that the Tour, which will begin to enforce its policy July 1, will be firm and random even to the point where a player can be tested off-tournament grounds. In theory, and in reality, the tour can knock on a player's door at home and demand a sample. "But we will not test every player every week," Finchem added. He said pressure from the public and other sports resulted in the tour falling in line. He also admitted that government pressure figured in the tour decision to change its playoff payoffs. The Fed Ex Cup winner, for instance, will be paid $9 million cash with only $1 million deferred, compared with a $10 million deferment in this, its first year. He said Washington, D.C., is cracking down on how much a company--even one of the tour's status--can issue in deferred compensation. Finchem said the Board tabled measures on adjusting Fed Ex Cup points and reducing field sizes, but both will be revisited in February and changes could be make effective for the 2008 playoff series. Finchem concluded that the tour made a "miscalculation" on its original 2008 schedule as regards the Ryder Cup. There was concern from the PGA of America and the European Tour about "proper preparation" for the their players with the schedule as it was--four straight playoff events, followed immediately by a Ryder Cup. Thus, the week off before the Ryder Cup and the delay of the Tour Championship to the week after the biennial matches. "I don't see us going down that path again," said Finchem, referring to a week with no tournament whatsoever in the middle of September, "although we might have a break in the playoff structure in the future."

And from Doug Ferguson of Associated Press

__ TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE__

The PGA Tour Playoffs will take a two-week break next year to give players a chance to be fresh for the Ryder Cup, addressing a concern that American players would be worn out before one of the most tiresome weeks of the year.

The change was approved by the PGA Tour policy board.

"It probably helps us because our Ryder Cup team tends to have more players in the Tour Championship," U.S. captain Paul Azinger said Tuesday. "Their guys (Europe) could be over at Valhalla for a week while our guys are grinding for a fifth week in a row. It's not going to hurt us."

The first three playoff events for the FedEx Cup -- The Barclays, Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship -- will be played consecutive weeks starting Aug. 21.

After the BMW Championship in St. Louis, the tour will have a week off from golf -- a rarity for September -- before the Ryder Cup is played Sept. 19-21 at Valhalla in Kentucky.

The Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta will be held the following week.

"We felt it was important to give those members of both the U.S. and European teams who will be competing in the playoffs the ability to prepare for the Ryder Cup while also focusing on the Tour Championship the following week," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.

The premise behind the four-week playoffs was to get the biggest stars competing four straight weeks concluding with the Tour Championship, where the winner of the points-based FedEx Cup received a $10 million bonus.

The plan didn't entirely deliver this year, however, when Tiger Woods skipped the opening playoff event and still won the FedEx Cup by a big margin. Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington also missed one playoff event.

The bigger concern was the Ryder Cup because 2008 was the only year in the television contract that there was not a week off between the Tour Championship and either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. The tour feared some players might skip playoff events, perhaps even in the Tour Championship, to keep fresh for its biennial match against Europe.

"You would see a majority take at least one week off -- I guarantee it," Jim Furyk said last month.

The solution was pushing the Tour Championship behind the Ryder Cup. That means a two-week break in the playoffs for those who don't make the Ryder Cup teams, and chance for those who do make the team to be fresh.

"It's a shame they didn't think of this before," Azinger said. "They wouldn't have had to go through the headache of getting it right."

The rest of the FedEx Cup remains relatively unchanged for now.

The field size for the playoff events again will be 144 players at The Barclays, 120 players at the Deutsche Bank Championship, 70 players at the BMW Championship and 30 players qualifying for the Tour Championship.

__ FEDEX PRIZE MONEY__

Several players lobbied to make the playoffs more volatile, giving more players a chance at winning the $10 million prize. There was little movement at the top of the standings, and those toward the bottom had little chance to move up barring a victory.

But there was strong sentiment in Monday's board meeting that for the first year of a revamped system, it worked well enough not to rush into massive changes. Finchem said the board would continue to look at ways to tweak the playoff points, although the regular season would not change.

One change was how to pay bonus money.

Woods and Mickelson were among those who wanted to be paid up front, instead of having the bonus money put into a deferred account that players could access at age 45. Starting next year, the top 10 players in the FedEx Cup standings will get most of their money in cash, and some of it deferred.

The winner, for example, will get $9 million in cash and $1 million placed into his retirement fund. The bonus money will all be deferred for those finishing out of the top 10.

DRUG POLICY

The PGA Tour plans to start its new drug-testing program as early as July, with penalties for a positive test that could range from a one-year suspension for a first offense to a lifetime ban if a player is caught three times.

Leaders from golf's most influential organizations signed off last month on an anti-doping policy. The tour's plan was approved by its policy board.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said players will receive a manual next month as part of an education program that will extend through June, with testing to follow.

The manual will contain a list of prohibited substances that fall under 10 categories, ranging from anabolic steroids to human growth hormones to narcotics to beta blockers.

Finchem said the tour can test players without notice anytime and anywhere, and testing at a PGA Tour event can occur before or after practice or competition. There was no limit to how many times a year a player can be tested. It was not clear if there would be any mandatory testing or players, such as the winner of a tournament.

Penalties could include ineligibility for up to one year for the first violation; up to five years for the second violation; up to a lifetime ban for multiple violations; and fines up to $500,000.

Finchem said violations for recreational drugs, such as marijuana or cocaine, could be treated differently from steroids. The program allows the commissioner discretion to require treatment instead of sanctions, or a combination of the two.

He also said the tour would disclose violations and will report the penalty. That's typical of other sports, noteworthy in golf because the tour has never disclosed fines for such things as conduct unbecoming a professional.

An education program for the Nationwide Tour will begin in the middle of next year, with testing to start toward the end of the 2008 season. On the Champions Tour for players 50 and older, the education program will start in January 2009, with testing expected to start in the middle of that year.