Without striking a shot in competition, Tim Finchem changed professional golf. In the simplest terms, he took a good thing – the PGA Tour – and made it better. Much better.
Bigger. Richer. More generous.
It’s why Finchem will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame when its next class goes in (the date is still to be determined), joining Tiger Woods and Marion Hollins as the newest inductees with more honorees to be announced soon.
Finchem goes in not for how he played the game – he’s still a good amateur player at age 73 – but for how he led the tour through boom times and challenging times. He minimized the lows and maximized the highs.
While halls of fame are built on competitive achievement, there is room for the influencers as well. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is filled with former commissioners, managers and even a few umpires. The Pro Football Hall of Fame includes former commissioners and team owners.
Finchem’s list of achievements is impossible to ignore. … His work in boardrooms and locker rooms altered the direction of professional golf.
The World Golf Hall of Fame already included two former PGA Tour commissioners, Joe Dey and Deane Beman, and various other administrators, not to mention course designers ranging from A.W. Tillinghast to Pete Dye. Adding Finchem to the Hall of Fame may not be as sexy as bringing in Woods (who was automatic once he reached the age qualification) but the former commissioner deserves his place.
Finchem spent 22 years at the helm. During those two-plus decades he transformed the PGA Tour, making it stronger and more powerful than ever.
If players in the Hall of Fame are measured by numbers – how many tournaments they won, how many majors, how many Ryder Cup teams – Finchem’s list of achievements is impossible to ignore. He didn’t have thousands watching his every move like Woods but his work in boardrooms and locker rooms altered the direction of professional golf.
Why does Finchem belong in the Hall of Fame?
- In his time as commissioner, total purses increased from slightly less than $100 million on three tours to more than $400 million on six tours;
- he landed FedEx as a major sponsor and created the FedEx Cup playoffs;
- he was instrumental in creating the World Golf Championships;
- under his stewardship, the Tour’s charitable donations cracked the $1-billion and $2-billion marks;
- while he had the great fortune of presiding over the tour in the Tiger Woods era, Finchem also led the tour through a recession while putting together lucrative media deals despite the economic environment;
- and, he spearheaded the creation of the First Tee program.
Finchem has never come across as the warm, fuzzy type – that’s not his nature — though he can be fascinating to talk with. From cooking to politics to pop culture, Finchem has a depth that makes him much more than a suit. In focusing on the PGA Tour, Finchem could also see the bigger picture.
The best leaders set a course and follow it with conviction. Finchem had the benefit of starting with a strong product but he improved it, not an easy task considering the multiple constituencies pulling at him from various directions. He had to answer to players, to sponsors, to rights holders.
“We get a lot of credit for what happened during that period with the downturn and after 9/11,” Finchem said on a conference call this week. “It wasn’t really all that difficult in the sense that we were successful in coming up with a strategy.
“The thrust we had was we want to come out of this better off than when we went into it, how do we get there …
“During my tenure, I watched companies get much more sophisticated in analyzing the value that they get from, in our case, the involvement with the PGA Tour.
“The quality of the analysis that they did was night and day from what it had been in years prior. And that was to our advantage because when a company analyzed and really got into the weeds on the value they were getting, the PGA Tour came across very positively.”
Finchem and current commissioner Jay Monahan talk from time to time. It was Monahan who called Finchem on March 11 – one day before the Players Championship was canceled and the PGA Tour screeched to a virus-induced halt – to inform him of his Hall of Fame induction.
Monahan is comfortable going his own way, having learned under Finchem. What Monahan faces today with the global uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus impact is unlike anything Finchem faced.
More than once recently, Finchem said people have asked him if he’d like to be commissioner today given the circumstances. What Monahan faces, Finchem said, is bigger than anything he faced.
Still, Finchem feels the tug.
“The answer,” Finchem said, “is yes because that’s what you like to do, and I loved doing it.”
Top: Tim FInchem. Photo: Sam Greenwood, Getty Images
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