By Ted Bishop
Tim Finchem had been only a casual acquaintance before I, as the 38th president of the PGA of America, served on the PGA Tour’s Policy Board. Past PGA leaders had cautioned me that Finchem, who retired last month after 22 years as Tour commissioner, was a tough negotiator concerned only about the Tour’s interests. He could be ruthless at times, I was warned, and would use the PGA of America to get what he needed.
I was told that Finchem wanted The Players Championship to replace the PGA Championship as one of golf’s four majors and that he sought to make the Presidents Cup more prestigious than the Ryder Cup in international golf competition. Such a move would threaten the PGA’s biggest financial resources.
Finchem quickly squelched my fears when we had a private conversation at Sea Island in October 2012 at my first Policy Board meeting. He said the PGA was drowning in its own paranoia regarding the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup. “It’s important that those two events be as good as they can be for the benefit of our players,” he said. “I do have some ideas on how both could be enhanced, if you ever want to listen. Let’s work together for a change because we can accomplish great things.”
Early on, we were united by the USGA’s proposed ban of the anchored stroke. Although Finchem opposed the ban from the outset, he had players on both sides of the argument. I watched him let the 90-day comment period play out before the Tour made a public commitment to oppose the USGA. He never lost sight of how this change in the Rules of Golf would affect many recreational amateurs, and he made sure that his players understood.
Finchem took great pride in constructing a deal that would be fair to all parties. In 2014, he proposed that we increase the PGA Championship purse from $8 million to $10 million and match The Players Championship. No doubt he hoped that the other majors would follow suit, benefitting his players.
I told him that I could support it but I needed something for my PGA members. He proposed that the Tour give an additional $1 million annually to the 41 PGA sections for their local purses. Plus, the Tour provided $1.5 million each year in commercial time on its telecasts promoting PGA grow-the-game programs.
The PGA yearned for a 2020 West Coast site for the PGA Championship. We approached Finchem about playing at TPC Harding Park. To do so, the Tour had to secure an extension in its deal with San Francisco and delay the Presidents Cup at Harding Park until 2024. In return, the PGA agreed to trade three spots for club pros in Web.com Tour events for playing opportunities for its members in Monday PGA Tour qualifiers.
Finchem led effectively because he never lost sight of whom he represented. When the players were successful, so was he. Finchem grew the Tour to a $2.21 billion asset. Purses climbed from $56.4 million in 1994 to nearly $300 million in 2016.
Did he have failures?
Critics contend that there was little transparency in the Tour’s drug policies. Finchem maintained that his approach protected the Tour’s brand and its players. Some would say that he damaged his credibility when he protected certain players.
Every major sport except for the PGA Tour owns or controls its TV network. As progressive as Finchem was in almost everything he did, this business was unfinished. In fairness, Finchem left the renewal of the Tour’s TV contracts to his successor, Jay Monahan. For all we know, a PGA Tour TV network might be in that plan.
Finchem’s greatest accomplishment?
His PGA Tour became a well-oiled machine that produced unprecedented money and opportunities for his players. He was able to create an insular world at PGA Tour headquarters. There never was a sign of cracks in the PGA Tour armor. This contrasts with the PGA of America and USGA, both of which were mired in public scandals during recent years.
I caught Tim Finchem in the later years of his career. Maybe he had mellowed, but he truly was the godfather among the five families of American golf.
Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14.