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Finchem Discusses Woods' Event
After Tiger Woods spent 15 minutes in front of an international audience apologizing for his marital improprieties and self-imposed exile from competitive golf, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem met with reporters - unlike Woods - and discussed the morning's activities. Here's what Finchem had to say.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.
Q. Sir, after seeing his statement today, what are your expectations of Tiger Woods and his conduct as it affects the Tour?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, as it affects the Tour, it usually is in the public domain. But I think if there's anything about Tiger Woods that's been evident over the last 14 years is that when he sets his mind to do something and he brings the attention and focus that he can to do something, he's been successful. And certainly that includes improvement in almost every area, whether it's his game, his business acumen, his presentation, his ability to talk on his feet. And he laid out this morning, I think, what he feels like he needs to deal with. And from my personal perspective of watching him over the years, I give him an excellent chance to manage to do exactly that. I'll just take him for the roadmap that he laid out this morning and look forward to seeing how that progresses.
Q. The roadmap included that golf is not necessarily ruled out this year. Of course the speculation was that Tiger might perhaps return for the Masters. Have you had any conversations with Tiger about when he might return to golf?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I have not. I mean, no, I haven't had any specific information from him in my conversations about what he plans to do. My sense is that, as candidly as always been the case, he will play when he's ready and when he thinks he can compete. But he has prioritized clearly now over the last three months getting to a certain point in the issues he's dealing with before he wants to take that step, and only he can make that decision. When he's prepared to say when he's prepared to do that, take that step, I'm sure he'll let us know. But I have no timeline in my own mind as to when that would be.
Q. I do want to ask you a financial question because he left open the possibility of sitting out the full year since he didn't say exactly when he would be back. Have you started to think about the financial implications of that for the Tour? You've talked in general about that, but specifically ad rates and things like that if he would sit out all four major tournaments this year.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Candidly there aren't any direct implications in the short-term, and when I say short-term, I mean in the next year or two. I think that the real impactor on the PGA Tour is a longer question as it relates to overall television ratings. As we've seen when he was out after his father's passing, when he was out with his injury in 2008, most of that season, the PGA Tour -- as a matter of fact 2008 we had a record year financially both with respect to prize money and dollars to charity. The PGA Tour has not been negatively impacted in any significant way. However, he does generate a significant increase in the overall interest in the sport, no question, and he does increase significantly the number of people that watch on television. And that plays into our long-term relationships with our television partners and the value of television rights. So I don't want to minimize the long-term impact, but I think in this case the good news from today is that, one, he plans to return; two, he could return as early as this year; and three, he clearly has taken the first very visible step in the road to that return. So all of that pleases us a great deal.
Q. Today he was obviously very insulated, but everyone said sooner or later that's not going to be the case when he does come back. How difficult might it be for you to make sure that his escapades in the past are not the focus of the coverage and also to insulate him and I guess the Tour?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, let me answer that in two parts. One part is in terms of the insulation. There's been a lot of discussion about the format today and his not taking questions from the press, and I think I should remind everyone that -- and I just checked this data yesterday, it's kind of interesting, he's played in 249 professional golf tournaments; he's had over 1,100 press conferences, visits to the pressroom, scrums out on the golf course during that period of time; he has done the Oprah Winfrey Show; he's done 60 Minutes. So he has had a major interface with the media. And when he returns to the game, that interface will continue. So I think the concerns in that area should just be put on hold until he comes back.
But with respect to the specifics of your question, I can't speculate on that. I really don't know the extent to which the American public generally, the media is part of that, allows him the opportunity to demonstrate where he's headed in a credible way is something that individuals will have to determine. You know, obviously when you have the President of the United States or the most leading, recognizable person in sports, it brings out a lot of individuals that say things and do things, and we have to be prepared for some of that. But hopefully we can maintain the decorum that we've had historically for our golf tournaments, and we'll just call on our fans to react positively to his request this morning, which was to judge him by his actions, allow him the opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to the directions that he's mentioned today, and hopefully most people are going to do just that.
Q. You started to talk about Tiger's impact, and he acknowledges that he impacts a lot of people. How does he impact your operations here in Ponte Vedra, and how does that trickle down to Ponte Vedra, if at all?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, we have to do a lot of media discussion. But not significantly. Again, he's been out before. I think the focus on the issues surrounding his leaving is a distraction to the game, there's no question about it. Dealing with the fallout is a distraction. There was no good time to do what's happened today without it distracting from what we're doing on the golf course in Mexico and certainly in the World Golf Championship event, the Accenture Match Play, this week. So there are those things. But fundamentally, he's stepped away from the game. He's gone for a while, and our operations continue day by day to put on golf tournaments and present them to the public locally.
Q. You know Mr. Woods; you heard him say today, "I felt a sense of entitlement." He had to stand there and acknowledge publicly a series of affairs. What was it like for you personally to sit there in the room and hear that from someone you know?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, you know, actually --
Q. And seeing his mother.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Yeah, I'd like to not try to put words in his mouth or characterize things. You know, I think that my personal reaction was that his comments were heartfelt. He clearly recognizes that there has been serious impact to a wide range of individuals and organizations. I thought it was particularly telling that he specifically addressed parents of children, the parents being individuals who had encouraged their children to look at him as a role model, and he specifically referenced that. But overall my take was that he is very focused on these issues. He's taking the steps that he and whatever professional assistance he's receiving suggest and that he's committed to the course that he laid out, and I thought it was a compelling commitment statement.
Q. Did you feel sorry for him?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think that since day one, people that know him and people that don't know him, what I've heard from most people is mainly -- there's an anger in some quarters, but mainly there is a sense of sadness that he's an American hero and he's had these issues. But at the end of the day, he's a human being. We all make mistakes. We all have made mistakes. And when we're lucky, we learn from those mistakes and we get to be better people. And it seems to me that's the course that he is on. As I was talking to his mother this morning about him trying to get better and better in certain areas every single year, this is certainly at the top of his list right now.
Q. Mr. Finchem, after Tiger made his statement, did you have a chance to speak with him, and if so, can you give us the gist of that conversation?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I spoke with him prior to the statement, not after the statement. You know, I've made it a long-standing policy when I have discussions with players, I don't comment to the media about those discussions.
Q. You said earlier this week that you were as interested as anybody to hear what he had to say. Were you surprised by anything that he said? Did you have prior knowledge of that? And as Susan asked you, reaction on a personal level? And in going forward, do you expect him to have this kind of press conference again?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, let me answer the tail end of that first. I think that obviously when he comes back to play, he's going to be in press conferences all the time, so that's just a given. That's part of being a professional athlete. He's chosen a course as he's stepped away from the game in dealing with these things in ways that he feels like he needs to deal with them to communicate as part of that process this step, and I think that's appropriate. In terms of being surprised, I wouldn't characterize it like that. I was impressed with the strength of his commentary given the nature of it and difficulty of talking about these things, and I was impressed about the focus of where he went with his comments in each of the areas that he addressed. I thought overall it was compelling.
Q. How do you respond to the criticism that some people have that are frustrated; they feel like Tiger Woods very much controlled the situation today? Why this venue? Why was he allowed to come to the PGA Tour headquarters when some say he could have spoken somewhere else? Even his fellow golfers were frustrated that he was allowed to speak from here. Why today, why the venue?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I think there's three pieces to that. First of all, the format of not taking questions, everybody has an opinion on that, and we all want to see, particularly in this country, an individual in any circumstance be subjected to difficult scrutiny and questioning. And somebody asked me yesterday what we would have done. We always try to make everybody happy. That's what we do. We want to cater to the media and make sure everybody is happy. But I think given the history of his involvement with the media, which is enormous, and the subject matter here, and where he is in dealing with his issues, and this being part obviously of the therapy that he's receiving, I didn't think it was inappropriate. And candidly, I'll just be honest, personally, what else do we need to know at this point?
The second part of your question is why here. We were asked to provide our clubhouse as the site for this for several reasons: One, he wanted to communicate with a number of individuals and organizations, including the PGA Tour directly, so that was appropriate; secondly, he's a member of the PGA Tour. I can't imagine any player who's a member of our Tour who asked for a press conference at any of our clubhouses around the country that we would say no to; and thirdly, I would just say that we had the logistical capability to assist to make this happen, and we were pleased to do it because we are dedicated all day long and want to be supportive to Tiger through this process.
Q. You said just a moment ago what more do we need to know. We've got a lot of sponsors who have sunk an awful lot of money into the Tour and into Tiger Woods specifically. We've got television network and other media that pay an awful lot in rights fees, not to mention the fans who watch and make it all tick. So how much more do you think they all need to know or have the right to know about? And what are some of the questions that need to be asked?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think he made it really clear today the areas that he might be prepared to talk about in the future but certainly the areas he's not going to be prepared to talk about. My point is that this is a step in the process, that when he reenters professional golf, he will have -- be in the situation numerous times, just as he has over the last 14 years, where he can be subjected to any range of questions. You know, he's had these press conferences over the last 14 years. The subject matter has been very different. It's been about how did you play and how do you plan to play and did you win the golf tournament and how are the kids. This is a different situation. But he will reenter that arena eventually, and questions can be asked. My point was in terms of right now, in terms of where his head is at, I thought he did a good job of describing that aptly at this point.
Q. As Commissioner of the Tour in which Tiger competed and wants to compete again, going into this, were there things that you wanted to hear from him, perhaps needed to hear from him, and did?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I think the important thing is that I was excited about the notion that he was going to take a step that conceivably could lead to movement to return, and to lead to a point in time where he was comfortable in making enough progress with the issues he's faced with to be able to return. So I was excited about that. And then in listening to the statement, what hit me was that he is making progress, he is focused, and I think that's very, very good news.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.