Extrapolation Nation Instead of talking about overtaking the NFL, the Tour needs to get serious

December 04, 2000

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem recently presided over a
gathering of golf dignitaries to discuss the game's future. Held
at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla., under the title
"Golf 20/20: Vision for the Future," this summit's tone was set
during Finchem's opening remarks, in which he declared that
golf's recent growth spurt is not over but in fact only
beginning. His newest goal for golf: within 20 years surpass the
NFL as the sport with the largest fan base in the U.S. That kind
of forward thinking is being called visionary by some, but the
commissioner's eyesight is anything but 20/20. In fact Finchem is
turning into golf's Mr. Magoo, so farsighted he can't see what's
under his nose. The Tour has a growth issue, but it's not the one
discussed in St. Augustine. The real issue is that the Tour has
gotten too big, too fast, and the growing pains are only going to
get worse.

Mushrooming TV money and a bloated tournament schedule have
fundamentally changed the Tour, and not for the better. As Tiger
Woods's recent grumbling made plain, there is a feeling among the
increasingly wealthy top players that the Tour should serve them,
not the other way around. This is most clearly manifested in the
waning support for what are supposed to be the Tour's flagship
events: the Presidents Cup and the four World Golf Championships,
both created by Finchem. Five Americans ranked in the Top 10 in
the World Ranking skipped last month's American Express
Championship at Valderrama, and that kind of civil disobedience
is merely a prelude to the sit-in (or, in this case, sit-out)
that is going to be visited upon the season-opening Accenture
Match Play Championship in January in Melbourne, Australia.

The leading Americans love the idea of the World Championships,
as long as they don't have to leave the comfort of the U.S. to
play in them. Here Finchem is a victim of the inflation he
created. Five-million-dollar purses in faraway lands no longer
seem sexy now that the pot is $4.25 million at the Invensys
Classic in Las Vegas. The Tour could pump up interest in the
World events by raising the purses to $7 million, or even $10
million, but that would only make the problems worse.

If we have learned anything this year, it's that huge money
reduces, not increases, motivation among the players. Today's top
golfers are confronted with a delicious reality--they can work 30
weeks a year and get filthy rich, or they can work 18 weeks and
still get filthy rich. The resulting lassitude has all but killed
the Silly Season and has far-reaching ramifications for every
tournament save the majors. The Presidents Cup, which offers
neither money nor prestige, is on particularly shaky ground, with
a widespread boycott looming in 2002 when South Africa is the

Finchem's vision has had an impact beyond the U.S. The European
tour can't come close to matching the U.S.'s puffed-up purses,
and as a result such stalwarts as Darren Clarke, Colin
Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal plan to play more extensive
schedules over here in '01. Without its stars, the Euro tour
could go the way of the CVS Charity Classic, just another
casualty of the game's big-money restructuring. Even college and
amateur golf have been affected. In the last year an alarming
number of 19- and 20-year-olds have prematurely turned pro. With
the Tour producing 45 millionaires in 2000, playing for free no
longer seems like such a capital idea.

So where does all this leave Finchem? Rarely is a leader scolded
for doing his job too effectively, but that is the case here.
Finchem has been so obsessed with growing the game in the long
term that he seems oblivious to the current, potentially
calamitous effects of his empire-building.

Finchem is dealing from a position of strength on every front but
the most vital one--his relationship with the players, independent
contractors who have never been more independent. Aside from
behind-the-scenes nagging, which has clearly backfired with
Woods, Finchem is powerless to dictate who will play where and
when. This is the Tour's fundamental structural problem as it
lurches into the big time.

The solution is elusive--you won't find one here--but I do have a
recommendation for the commissioner: The next time you convene a
panel, forget golf's future. Instead, take a good, hard look at
its present.

Golf Plus will next appear in the Dec. 18 issue of SPORTS


Finchem is becoming golf's Mr. Magoo, so farsighted that he
can't see what's right under his nose.

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