Featured Golf News
Finchem & O'Grady Discuss Future Plans
In a 35-minute chat with reporters on Sunday during the final round of the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral, the two heads of the leading professional tours, Tim Finchem of the PGA Tour and the European Tour's George O'Grady, outlined concepts for better "integrating" their respective groups.
Of particular note was a discussion about a scheduling dispute this November that, unless resolved, may force some of South Africa's leading golfers to decide between playing in the South African Open and the Presidents Cup, a biennial team event involving the U.S. and a team of internationals around the world, less Europe. The two leaders are slated to talk about some resolution at the upcoming Masters.
Also in the works is an idea that would exempt players in the top-50 of the World Golf Rankings from being able to enter any tournament they wish, whether on the PGA or European tours, and ongoing plans to create a world tour that also would bring additional "integration" of the two organizations and their members.
The following is a complete transcript of the Finchem-O'Grady Q&A.
MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us. We have two special guests with us this afternoon, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and Chief Executive of The European Tour, George O'Grady, joining us before we focus our attention on the final round of what is sure to be an exciting finish to the World Golf Championships Cadillac Championship. This is going to be what I understand is something we are going to do several times this year, have both Mr. Finchem and Mr. O'Grady together to talk about what you want to talk about, things that are of interest to both tours, but also in the best interests of the game of golf as a whole. So with that I would like to turn it over to Commissioner Finchem for some opening remarks.
TIM FINCHEM: Before I go into what we are going to talk about here for the next few minutes, let me just say how delighted we are, I think I speak for all of the Tours with this week and the turnout of the players and the quality of the golf course, and certainly the return of General Motors and Cadillac to PGA Tour-level golf after 51 years, and a year off. They are back with us as a partner, and it's compelling how much work they have done in just a short period of time since they made that decision.
We are looking forward to an exciting finish today, and I think this field reflects what the World Golf Championships were designed to do in terms of pulling the best players in the world together on a more-often basis. George and I thought that - and let me just publically welcome George to the United States, and, of course, the World Golf Championships here. George and I thought we would give you an opportunity to ask us questions about anything.
I would like to before I ask George to make a few opening comments, just recognize and refresh for you our history together. George and I worked on a variety of things over a good number of years going back to the mid 90s when the International Federation of PGA Tours was formed. At the outset it was really a forum and then became a federation; subsequent to that, the Federation coming together to stage the World Golf Championships, starting in the late '90s; then later collaborating on the development of the World Golf Foundation and its oversight of the World Golf Hall of Fame; certainly the United States' effort with the First Tee Program and Golf 20/20; more recently working together with the other tours, again, to take a leading role in seeking the addition of golf to the Olympic Program and the development of the International Golf Federation as part of that, and the Olympic Committee that ensued.
I think over those many years, George and I have developed a very good working relationship and I think it's reflected in the work product. George this year serves as the Chairman of the World Golf Foundation, the board of the World Golf Foundation, and took a leading role in the recent decision to add Frank Chirkinian among those who will be recognized at the induction ceremony there in May. With that, George, welcome, and I'll turn it over to you before we take questions from these folks.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Thank you, Tim, and thank you for your welcome here to the United States. I think I and my colleagues always enjoy our visits here and we always learn something every time on the visits we make, whether it's here or the Masters, the U.S. Open or the Ryder Cup or the PGA Championship. As I've said before, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and we pick up many different ideas here when we come here to the United States, and also in the collaboration that we have together. I think the development of the International Federation of Tours, the development of these World Golf Championships as the elite of the game, which people have got to come through and qualify to play in.
And I think the question we get asked a lot: Is it just about elite players and the rich getting richer. I think if you look at the number of European Tour players in this field and the ones, how long they have been at the top to get there, I think spearheaded by Edoardo Molinari; that you can come playing from Challenge Tour and be there in the Ryder Cup Team and in these sort of tournaments within a year of getting your card means that the opportunity is there for everyone. The strength of putting ourselves available today is that we are talking about several different things, detailed issues, as well as principle issues, but it's really the principles that we are dealing with this week. And as such, we'd take them together and any other questions that anybody might have. Thank you again for the welcome. Thank you.
Q. There's been some talk recently about the idea of, if you are in the top-50 in the world, not having to be -- not having any membership requirements held against you; that you can basically play any tournament in the world that you want. Your thoughts on that, do you think it's a good idea, and if not, why wouldn't it work?
TIM FINCHEM: I missed the first part of your comment. There's been discussion about?
Q. With different tours and the membership requirements they have in terms of tournaments and how much you can play and that if you're Top-50, that if you've earned the right to be in the top-50, you should be able to play anywhere you want.
TIM FINCHEM: I don't know if we have seriously entertained that particular adjustment. There has been discussion over the years on a variety of things that relate to the movement of players among tours. As you're aware, on the PGA Tour here, those regulations have changed over the last ten or 15 years to where it's easier for a player to make the commitment and play here, and some more access before he has to make the commitment; that has been certainly the driving force, but it's had the effect of increasing the number of players from outside the United States that we have from what was 18 when I became Commissioner to the last three years, I think the average is around 75. So literally 40 percent of our exempt players are from outside the United States.
When you get into movement, unique movement among top players and what that means, there are different ways to look at that. But for example, there used to be a rule that -- up until I guess ten years ago, that if you were a member of this tour from outside the United States and drop your membership, you were not allowed to reapply for several years. Now, that has gone away, but you are restricted in the number of events that you can play in the next couple of years by sponsor exemption or whatever to 10. Those are the kind of rules that we continue to look at. We may be recommending some change. The specific question you raise is about the top-50, and I take note of the fact that the top-50 are exempt by definition into a number of tournaments, and I don't know of much interest for expanding that. But overall, I think as the world of golf grows together, some of the things I mentioned earlier in terms of coming together, doing things together globally, we are all moving more in the direction of more integration, and that obviously, as it evolves, will impact some of these rules and regulations. But I'll flip that same question to George.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Quite a few of our top players have said specifically that to us. I think that you have to balance it all of the time with the depth of your tour; that feel you must make a commitment to it. And we put our numbers up to 13 now, at the same time as including one of the limited-field events as one of those qualifiers. I think we do run a players' organization, and so you have to look at that; and I think that's something that could easily evolve, because the same players at the top of the game, well, some, obviously current World Rankings; the ranked four, two of them are only members of the European Tour, but they are in demand on both sides. I don't think there's a powerful lobby for it at the moment, but I think it's something that we would listen to.
Q. This is the World Golf Championships event, and something in the world terrible has just happened in Japan. Is there any plan or something to help or redirect charity money or direct charity money to that situation?
TIM FINCHEM: We tend to do these things, sometimes together, sometimes independently. I think to answer your question specifically, no, there is no plan. Will we do some things, yes. It's just early and it's candidly like it's too early even to direct support if we were to provide for it. So we are going to watch the situation, watch what the President's lead is on this from the United States' perspective and talk to the other golf organizations like we have done in Australia where the Presidents Cup people down there worked with Greg Norman to help people affected by the floods; there was some effort in Christchurch; there was a big effort after the tsunami by golf several years ago where we supported the funds chaired by President Bush and President Clinton, and that was done across the board in golf. We'll just have to see things evolve and what we can do to help. But we will be helping, and we have reached out to some of our guests from Japan that are here this week and indicated that to them. So stay tuned, but we will be saying more on that in the weeks to come.
Q. Both tours will have a Tournament of Champions next year early in the year, and there will be players who will qualify for both Tournament of Champions. Have you had discussions about coordinating the schedule so that somebody would be able to play in both events?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think that's onward going, I think now to get the date. Our date for our Tournament of Champions is not finalized yet. It seems not a great idea to have them clashing directly head-on and we are trying to alleviate that at the moment.
TIM FINCHEM: Yeah, I think we are open to anything. We have the HSBC - WGC is heavily weighted on winning tournaments, as well, and of course, has a multi-year exemption; so there's different ways to recognize performance. And there have been formulae recommended over the last five or eight years on our Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua. Some recommendations sometimes interest us, and we have chosen to date not to change the structure of eligibility but we continue to look at it. So I would not say we wouldn't. And on this particular issue, we'll wait to see. We'll let George take the lead on where he's headed and then if it results in a possibility of having a candid conversation, we are certainly open to it.
Q. You just mentioned integration. Can I get both of your thoughts on the possibility of a world tour sometime in the future where you would just come together as one organization?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, I think most people think of a world tour as top players in the world are organized to play 18 to 20 events and that's what they do. My own view, and George and I have talked about this I think a fair amount, is that it may develop over the years that golf just becomes integrated. Then it's really a question of what the competitive format is that involves all of the players on a global basis. And there are different models in sports that you can look at, and I suppose you could conjure up some models that are not currently used in sport. But I think in our conversations, we clearly recognize that the global presentation of the sport and the broadcast that's tied to that has changed and evolved over the last 15 years, and to leverage that properly, at some point in the future, at least in my view, integration will become a very viable alternative.
When that happens and how that happens, I couldn't tell you. I don't think it's in the short term. I certainly believe it will be in the mid-term, 10 to 20 years from now. Certainly as Asia develops as a powerhouse in terms of generating elite players and managing what that means in terms of access and presentation of the sport; and I do think we should be looking out 15 years on these issues and talking about that, and we are. But with the downturn three years ago; with the need to spend a lot of energy on sponsorship; with our television agreements the way they are, I just don't see that happening overnight. But certainly, because of growth in Eastern Europe, Asia, I think South America which we are very focused on, there will be movement in that direction over time. It wouldn't make sense to try to outline the specific possibilities there.
GEORGE O'GRADY: I'd say that's exactly the way it is. Because there will be enough jockeying for position occasionally on dates at the end of the year; that means that if we are going to go for unified, we'll have to be integrated in some way. I don't think it's as simple as somebody writing out, here is a new world tour and it's all done with a blueprint tomorrow. I would use the phrase, it evolves, and it evolves to avoid some of the clashes that are going on at the moment, which are not really in anybody's best interests.
Q. We have had two World Golf Championships events in two weeks. Is that optimal scheduling from your viewpoint, Tim and George, and is there any thought being given to moving the venues abroad to sort of spread out the WGC events?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, I'm not so sure there is a scheduling mix for anything that reaches the optimal adjective, just because there are so many moving parts to it. I think the fundamentals are what works from a player movement standpoint that can fit; that can allow the events to attract the best players in the world, and at the same time, not jeopardize, or at least limit, the negative impact on the various tours, ours included. And that's one factor. What works for television; what time of the year is the best to get the most focus, because if you're going to expend the effort to attract the best players in the world, you want that to be a real showcase. And certainly the first quarter has turned out to be an excellent time to do that globally. If you just look at the map, see where golfers are at this time of year, they are watching television. That's a factor.
But, I think as we look out, we are looking at different ways to approach the schedule. I think from a broadcast/media standpoint, some more space there would be of interest and we need to pay attention to that. I also think in terms of the distribution of the events, we have made a strategic investment of having a WGC in China for a long time, and we do that for obvious reasons; because we want to raise the trajectory of growth in a market that is going to be hugely impactful on not just elite development but participatory part of the sport, and we make those decisions. Would we like to play these events more moving around? Yes. It's difficult to do that. And thankfully the broadcasts have been so strong globally that we get tremendous interest in them everywhere regardless of where they are played.
But these are issues that we talk about all the time, and this is a scenario that's worked well from a player perspective and it's worked well from a broadcast perspective. And I think George would agree that when you look at these events, you look at them in the context of the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup, the World Cup, the World Golf Championships, the Major Championships, the big events on The European Tour, the big events on our tour, the Players Championship, and get a sense of, going back to Doug's question, if you want the Top-50 players to play 10 times a year or 12 times a year, you really need to pay attention to that in the context of the overall calendar.
I'm just talking about this at 25,000 feet. When you take that and apply it to the real details of how a schedule works, it can get quite gnarly; and in particular, a time when the European Tour has expanded their position in the number of events they have in the Middle East; they have expanded the number of events they have in Asia. We have added some events in Asia. We have collaborated on the World Cup in Asia. These things make the calendar very different than it was even five or eight years ago, and more pressure on the calendar. So we just have to recognize that, and it's a difficult exercise, and we go the best we can. But at this juncture, we are pleased with the results of what we have had. We are always looking to do it better.
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think from our point of view, I think the World Golf Championships and the dates of them, together with the dates of the major golf championships, means the other tours; I call The European Tour one of the other tours; we have had to sharpen our act very strongly. No one is blind to see we do not have a tournament this week on the European Tour. We did not have one last week. These are big competitive issues for us to deal with. So we have got to use a World Golf Championships to grow the game in certain markets around the world. Because I use the phrase occasionally that we respond; The European Tour has to respond to the golfing wishes of the rest of the world, and encourage the Italians, the Spanish, the French, and then all of the developing nations we go to.
It's no accident that we have concentrated on the Arab countries at times of the year where we think we have got a window. They have unique benefits there in terms of climate, quality of golf courses, I suppose money you could say in sponsorship in that sense. Here, it's tougher. If you talk about a world tour; the world tour is here, now, this week, and in the Accenture tournament and then in the run-up to the Masters that dominates. So we have had to reexamine what we look at; Spain, Morocco, more different countries. When I talk about the items in detail we talk about and the items in principle, the principle of how we are fighting our corner to develop the game wherever we go. And so I think we look at the detail of the dates secondary to the principle.
Q. The other day Ernie Els was in here expressing his concern over the Presidents Cup/South African Open conflict of dates. Is it even possible that the Open could have its dates changed at this late time? Is that something that you are looking at or could even think about doing?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, I don't know the answer to that. We are in conversations with the South African Tour. We will continue those conversations. We both hope there could be some resolution to this conflict. And I just don't have anything else to add to that. We are still hopeful. I think this is an example of what we were just talking about. That tour, as George just referenced, has had to react to things that have happened on the global calendar that impact their ability to have their own players play. It just gets to a point in the crowding of the calendar where it's very, very difficult. But we still hope we can get some sort of reconciliation for this year, and we will just have to see.
GEORGE O'GRADY: The last question, we would do what we can. We would be hopeful of finding some resolution what we get all of the tours by the Masters. I think the choice of the date, the European Tour certainly has an interest in seeing a very successful Presidents Cup, at any time, and especially when it goes around the world; and it can help, if you like, to grow the message of top-flight golf in the countries it goes to, whether that's South Africa, Australia or any territory it might go in the future. With the leading players on the rest of the World Ranking coming from South Africa at the moment, the choice of that date doesn't appear perfect. We had already put the Johor Open in that week, which would of course conflict anybody; that promoter and that sponsor and understood the Presidents Cup was on that week and certainly would not be targeting any of the rest of the world, or the American players for that matter, to play in their tournament. Together with the immediate week when the South African Open would go to, you can't immediately see now. There are different alternatives, and I would hope that we can get it sorted out quite quickly.
Q. You mentioned a few minutes ago about some focusing on South America. Could you expand on maybe any discussions or possibilities there?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, we have been in discussions for several months with the Tour de Las Americas about the possibility of partnering with them in perhaps elevating the impact of the current restructure a little bit and raising the quality of the events involved and their overall impact on creating more interest about the game in the markets where they play throughout South America, and possibly, as part of that, providing as one of the steps, some additional access to the PGA Tour through the qualifying school and the Nationwide Tour. The Nationwide Tour, which has enjoyed really astounding success in Panama and Colombia, we are looking at the role the Nationwide might play in an enhanced involvement in South America, as well.
I think overall what we are looking at is taking advantage of a point in time where we are going to be playing the Olympics in five years, and the lead-up to playing the Olympics in Rio, which is one of those countries that has a growing middle class, and golf is in a growth mode; again, here, raising the trajectory of growth. We will have more to say about that later this year, but those talks are moving along well, and we are becoming more and more excited about the possibilities down there through partnership.
Q. I'm sure you both now that Tiger was fined for spitting on the golf course on The European Tour a few weeks ago. I would be curious to know both your personal views; is there any tolerance for spitting on a golf course in tournament play in your opinions?
TIM FINCHEM: (Turning to George) Do we state personal views on something we do? As a matter of course? (Chuckling).
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think the company and the personal views of the European Tour reflects; respects the customs of the countries we visit because we have to go to so many different countries. I think our tournament director who took the immediate action when he had seen the TV footage to impose a penalty, he was mindful of the customs in that country. And the Internet feedback we have had through our website is almost totally in favor from the rest of the world. From America, I would say it's about 80 percent in favor. So it's outside personal views. You have to, in any country you visit, respect their customs; that's my personal view.
TIM FINCHEM: I don't take an issue with George's personal view. We just don't, as you know, we don't discuss disciplinary action that we may take or might have taken.
Q. Do you think there should be spitting -- should spitting be tolerated on the golf course?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, it is a matter of great concern to our players. There isn't anything specifically our regulations about it. The interesting thing that comes to mind here is that we had another player do the same thing Tiger did on national television on the same day, and we have yet to hear a word about it, which is the difference between Tiger Woods and everybody else. I think that we make decisions about what is and isn't sometimes conduct unbecoming a professional in ways that had to do with the specifics of the incident, even though you might have two incidents very similar. It's just something we have to do. But again, we don't discuss the conclusion of those reviews publically.
GEORGE O'GRADY: There is a slight difference on the tours of how you make something public. Our tournament director that took the action, it seemed to get such a comment from the commentator on the television channel that was being watched in Europe and there in Dubai; so he couldn't not reply, and it would be silly not to do so. So he took the view that it was a breach or a penalty there, and I think it's different on where it went. Again, we don't cover the specific situations, but he felt something immediate had to be done, and he did it, and it seems to have gone down quite well in our markets.
Q. There's been some discussion with the people from Cadillac here this week about trying to get an event in Detroit. I know this had been mentioned before, and then at the other end of the equation, there's Hilton Head and Hope and maybe another one or two that have some sponsor issues. I was wondering if you could talk about the Detroit possibilities again, and also about where you see things for both the Hope and Hilton Head.
TIM FINCHEM: Well, as I've said publically, we have had many discussions with GM and Cadillac about Detroit. It is our intention to do something in Detroit at some point in the future. We don't have any date flexibility now. I don't anticipate any date flexibility arising from either one of those two tournaments. I think they are both going to be on the schedule for a good period of time, but I'm not positive about that; if that doesn't happen, I suppose it conceivably could open up a position for Detroit. Although Detroit obviously has to be played later. So it's not without its challenges, but I suspect it could happen.
Right now, if I were to bet, I would say that both of those tournaments would continue to be on the schedule, and at some point in the future, it is a priority of ours to build an event in Detroit, and we are working on how to build that event. But it's the kind of event that we would want to, you know, do in a manner that would be quite successful. So we are spending energy on it. I just don't know when it would be added to the calendar.
Q. Just backing up to the date conflict of the South African Open and Presidents Cup, at this point what do you think the most sensible resolution would be? Do you think it would be moving the date of the South African Open?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think if the leading players are qualifying for the rest of the world team are South African, and they want to play their National Open, the obvious thing is, if a way can be found, we would have to move that date.
Q. Most sports worldwide, if they discipline players, they are transparent and let people know why they have done it and what the punishment is. What is it that you fear and why is it that you keep everything under wraps?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, we don't always, but as a general rule, we don't announce the details of a disciplinary matter. You know, the biggest reason is that 90 percent-plus of the disciplinary matters we deal with, the public is not aware of them. We see no reason to advise the public of when one of our players does something silly. Why should we do that? If it's a situation, though, where the facts of the matter are described erroneously, either in the media or by an involved player, we may comment on it. And occasionally, where it's an obviously highly-covered situation, we might comment on it. But as a general rule, we just don't think it's in the interests of the sport to do that, and so we don't.
We are in a little different situation; that if a fight breaks out in the NBA between a couple of players and some fans, the Commissioner pretty much needs to say, this is what I did to protect that from not happening again. In our case, as I've often said, what I have to deal with on Monday morning typically is a player saying a bad word. It's a very different kind of situation the commissioners of the team sports are dealing with. We don't see any reason to fan the flames and just lay out for the public what a player might have done in front of 15 people, even though we took action on it, and that's most of what we deal with.
And I know it's frustrating to the media, because you want to know, you want to report it; we won't talk about it and that's a frustration. But at the end of the day we think that's in the best interests of the players and the sport. The other thing I will say, too, in my experience, the disciplinary action that we typically take is taken for the purpose of getting the player to focus on the action. And in the vast majority of cases, that has a mitigating impact on it happening again, or certainly happening frequently. Now, some players have anger issues that go beyond, because they make decisions in anger, and that's a more troubling situation.
But in most cases, it's sufficient, and it works. And that's why 92 percent of Americans think that our players are role models, because the conduct on our tour is very good. We like where we are and we don't see any overwhelming reason, even though we like to make the media happy, we worry about that, but we are just not prepared to take that step.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for your time.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.