It figures that the PGA Tour spent last week in Canada, where the
dollar is known as the loonie, because the Tour, too, is on the
verge of going loony over dollars. The golf world has been
buzzing since last month's Sprint International, during which the
nascent Tour Players Association kicked off its grassroots
campaign to reform the relationship between the players and the
bureaucracy that represents them. The prospect of a power
struggle over the Tour's vast resources has inspired both horror
and giddy anticipation. That was even before the plot thickened
at the Canadian Open, won by Billy Andrade in a one-hole playoff
over Bob Friend at Glen Abbey Golf Club, outside Toronto.
Two days before the tournament, Tour commissioner Tim Finchem
blew into town for a meeting with his players, and he packed some
serious firepower: the Tour's legal counsel and three of the
independent directors from its nine-man policy board, as well as
a detailed multimedia presentation on the economics of the
organization. On Tuesday evening about 50 players piled into a
hospitality tent at Glen Abbey, and over the next 4 1/2 hours
(including a buffet dinner) Finchem unspooled his case, seeking
to rebuff the TPA's chief assertions--that the Tour is secretive
about its finances and is out of touch with its players,
particularly those at the southern end of the money list. This
marathon rap session may well be remembered as a watershed moment
for the Tour because Finchem's spiel polarized sentiment on both
sides of the debate. "It's pretty clear the commissioner's
intention was to come in here and squash the association," Danny
Edwards, the TPA's interim president, said last Saturday. "It
didn't happen. If anything, it has only strengthened our
This seems like a peculiar time for unrest, what with purses that
look like they're on andro. But 1998 has been a year of
discontent, a season marred by the public relations hit the Tour
is taking on the Casey Martin case, the controversial makeup date
at Pebble Beach--six months elapsed before the final round was
played--and the dumping of a popular homespun tournament in
Sutton, Mass., to make room for next year's glitzy World
Championships. Together these disparate developments have had a
galvanizing effect. "The players were left out on all of those
decisions," says Edwards. "That's wrong. The PGA Tour as an
organization exists to serve the players, not the other way
around. We need to have a voice, and that's what the association
is all about."
Finchem has been known to act unilaterally, as he did in the
unprecedented Pebble Beach case, but it is the policy board that
makes the Tour's bylaws. The board is composed of one officer of
the PGA of America, four independent directors, who are usually
captains of industry from outside of golf, and four player
directors, each of whom serves a three-year term. It is said that
the players carry the most clout on the board, but a unanimous
vote is required for any action to be passed. Whether this setup
can adequately represent the 200 or so private contractors who
play the Tour is at the heart of the TPA's beef, particularly
when the current player directors--Mark O'Meara, Davis Love III,
Jay Haas and Tom Lehman--rank fourth, sixth, 19th and 20th on the
career money list, respectively.
September 20, 1998
The policy board's selection process is one of the TPA's targets.
Player directors are elected by the Tour's voting members (anyone
who has played in 15 events the previous season), but candidates
reach the ballot only after serving for at least a year on the
16-man player advisory council. Eight of the spots on the council
come from a vote of the general membership, while the other eight
are handpicked by the four player directors, an incestuous
arrangement that explains why the board is often top-heavy with
name players instead of the rank and file.
One of the totems of the TPA's proposed reform is to have Tour
policy decided by a simple majority vote of the general
membership. "They want to vote on everything? That doesn't happen
in real life," Jeff Sluman, a former policy board member, said
two weeks ago. "That's why we elect representatives to Congress."
Sluman is 43rd in the World Ranking, meaning he should qualify
for the World Championships, which are reserved for the 64
top-ranked players and have record $5 million purses. The World
Championships have become symbolic of the widening gulf between
the haves and have-nots on the Tour, and many of the latter are
up in arms that the Tour is allowing the bloated World
Championships paychecks to count as official money. If this were
put to a vote by the general membership, Sluman and the other
elite players would be vastly outnumbered.
The economic stratification on Tour has also been reflected in
the debate about whether players should be paid a nominal,
per-tournament expense stipend, a rallying point on the TPA's
agenda. For the well-heeled, an extra two or three grand a week
is inconsequential, so they can afford to be ideological purists.
"The PGA Tour is the ultimate form of capitalism, and paying
people to miss the cut is a socialist idea," says Paul Azinger,
12th on the career money list.
Edwards sees it differently. "If Steve Kerr played in the first
half of a basketball game but not the second, you wouldn't say he
deserves nothing, would you?" he asks.
It was this question of expense compensation that pulled the
trigger on the formation of the TPA. Edwards, a five-time winner
from 1977 to '85, quit playing full time in 1988 and has since
formed Royal Precision, Inc. (NASDAQ symbol: RIFL). Last season,
at 46, Edwards returned to begin getting his game in shape for
the Senior tour, and he was struck by the level of disaffection
among the players. Over the next year he had talks with dozens of
them, and on at least three occasions he spoke with Finchem.
During one of those conversations, Edwards raised the possibility
of an expense stipend, and by his account Finchem said that the
vast majority of the players opposed it. This contradicted
everything Edwards had heard, so he drafted a questionnaire and
about 80 players responded. According to Edwards, 95% were in
favor of expense compensation, but the answers to two other
questions "were kind of shocking," he says. Asked if "the current
system of player representation has been open and responsive to
player ideas, and [whether] this system has produced trust and
confidence," Edwards says about 80% responded no. To the
question, "Do you believe that an independent players'
association with professional leadership would be more likely to
be productive in achieving these concerns," he says that between
85% and 90% said yes.
Edwards took his data to Larry Rinker, a friend who in 1993 had
met with considerable resistance when he tried to hire an
attorney to act as a liaison between the players and the Tour.
Edwards and Rinker then contacted a lawyer, Leonard Decof. A
soft-spoken resident of Providence, Decof has been public enemy
number 1 in the eyes of the Tour ever since representing Karsten
Manufacturing against it in the so-called square-grooves case of
the early '90s. Experts viewed the eventual settlement of that
case as a decisive victory for Karsten.
Earlier this month, Decof helped the players file the federal
paperwork to establish a tax-exempt association, with Edwards as
president, Rinker as secretary and Mark Brooks, the winner of the
'96 PGA, as treasurer. In the meantime Edwards received a
strongly worded three-page letter from Finchem, which argued the
merits of the Tour and warned him not to be "divisive." At the
Aug. 20-23 International, outside Denver, the TPA posted a
four-paragraph open letter in the locker room explaining its
raison d'etre, and held two informational meetings, with Decof in
attendance, to answer questions. About two dozen players showed
up each night. The next week, in Vancouver, another meeting
attracted about 30 players, and by the time the Canadian Open
rolled around, the TPA was boasting a membership of 50 players,
though according to Brooks only about half have actually coughed
up the $1,000 initiation fee.
A major bone of contention among the TPA hard-liners is what they
perceive to be limited access to the Tour's financial records.
The Tour hires its own internal auditor, who assists in an annual
external audit by a major accounting firm. Every March the
members of all three tours run by the PGA Tour (regular, Senior
and Nike) receive by mail a slickly packaged financial summary.
"Our books are open," says Finchem.
"We have different ideas of what accounting is all about,"
counters Brooks. "You could show me your tax return, but I
wouldn't know how you got your numbers. We're not satisfied with
the pie charts and gross totals in vague categories that they
The implication that the Tour may be cooking the books speaks
volumes about how little trust there is between the two sides.
"This business of we-they, there's no place for it in our sport,"
Finchem said on Sept. 8 following his meeting with the players.
He had better get used to the notion, because the sides have
already been drawn.
"This is not a volatile, divisive rebellion," says Brooks. "We're
in this for the long term. The suggestion that we'd do anything
that harms ourself or the Tour is insulting. We're not going to
do anything crazy, like go on strike or picket tournaments. All
we want is an organization that will look out for the players'
interests first and foremost, because the Tour has lost sight of
Edwards is more succinct. "The system in place is dedicated to
preserving the status quo," he says. "We're going to challenge