Originally created 11/06/02

A tough year to do business



ATLANTA -- PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem sat in a quiet, dimly lit room at East Lake Golf Club and went over his schedule, typed single-space on an index card. The only thing missing from the itinerary was a minute to catch his breath.

In golf vernacular, no one has been grinding harder.

"Even though I'm tired, and it's been a long year, and the team has been stressed out, we feel like we're stronger than we were going into the year," Finchem said during the final round of the Tour Championship. "We accomplished a lot in a difficult environment."

How difficult?

Topping the list was the economy, which started to go south about the time the PGA Tour negotiated another four-year TV contract worth nearly $1 billion.

Nine companies found the price for title sponsorship ($7 million a year) too steep to renew during a recession. One of them was caught in a corporate scandal. The result was the highest sponsorship turnover in years, and there are still holes to fill.

Sponsorship was even more fragile on the Senior PGA Tour, and so were the egos of some players. They thought Finchem wasn't spending enough time on their product, and they talked openly about getting their own commissioner.

Finchem also had to squash the Major Champions Tour in March. And as the year ends, he has been drawn into the controversy over the all-male membership at Augusta National.

It's enough for some industry leaders to wonder whether the PGA Tour's next search won't be for a new title sponsor - but a new commissioner.

"Today is my 16th straight day in an airplane," Finchem said. "They know I'm working hard, and they assume since we went through a challenging period, maybe I'm ready to cash in. That's not the case. There's no truth to that."

As difficult as the year has been, it also has been one of the most rewarding.

The policy board meets in two weeks at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and the long-awaited 2003 schedule will be released a short time later.

In March, when the tour was trying to secure a dozen title sponsors and the economy was not showing many signs of improving, Finchem all but guaranteed a full schedule of events and increased prize money for next year.

"I never let myself believe we would come out anywhere but where we've come out," Finchem said. "Looking back, with what happened and continues to happen in this market, I've got to say I'm impressed we were able to do what we did."

While 10 companies bailed out as title sponsors, Finchem managed to find blue-chip replacements like Ford (Doral), Bank of America (Colonial), and Wachovia (Charlotte).

Prize money is expected to increase up to 10 percent annually during the next four-year TV contract.

Is there a company in today's economy that wouldn't take that kind of growth?

Some events still haven't found a sponsor, but they aren't going away.

"Tim has done an incredible job," Davis Love III said. "Does anyone have a perfect record? No. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone gets blindsided. Everybody has things they can't control, like the economy, and they're thrown for a loop.

"Overall, he has exceeded his goals. And that's all you can ask."

Finchem still has his doubters.

Greg Norman, who has a successful business empire to go with his 75 victories around the world, is among those who think the PGA Tour grew too quickly.

Norman won the money title in 1995 with a record $1.6 million. That wouldn't have been enough to finish in the top 30 this year.

"No one can sustain the kind of growth we've had on the PGA Tour the last six or seven years," Norman said. "We've had five years of money being thrown at us. What do you do when you have to work hard for your dollars?

"He can't keep pulling rabbits from the hat."

Finchem won't say this has been the most challenging time in his eight years as commissioner, but it certainly is the most strenuous.

The question is how many years he can keep going. Finchem made $2.25 million in 1999, according to the latest tax records obtained by Golf Digest.

The next challenge for the 55-year-old commissioner is finding more time to spend with his family and on himself. He has played only five rounds of golf this year. Love has gone fishing with Finchem, and says the commissioner has to concentrate on relaxing.

Finchem does not deny it.

"My whole life is regimented. It's all on these schedule cards," he said. "Every minute is maximized. I do the same thing with exercise and relaxation. I get it in, and get on to the next thing."

Is it enough to make him consider quitting?

"Whenever I leave, there's going to be things that I wish I could stay longer to accomplish," he said. "Right now, I feel very strongly there are some things out there I want to accomplish in the next five years."