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Finchem Pleased with State of the Tour & Season Opener in Hawaii


PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem met with reporters Sunday at the site of the circuit's 2012 season opener, the Kapalua Plantation Course on Maui.

Although five players ranked among the top-10 in the world rankings - No. 1 Luke Donald, No. 3 Rory McIlroy, No. 4 Martin Kaymer, No. 5 Adam Scott and No. 9 Charl Schwartzel - were eligible to play in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, they opted to pass on the $5.6 million event.

The PGA Tour is getting increasing competition from tournaments around the world. Chief among those is the European Tour and its season-long Race to Dubai (the former Order of Merit), which draws Europe's best players. Indeed, Tiger Woods will venture overseas later this month for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

"This is a week that's up against a lot of activity historically in South Africa and Australia," Finchem told reporters. "We didn't have a significant number of those players win tournaments and eligible this year, but we have had years when it was a problem. I was a little surprised that it was five this year from Europe, but I don't think I should have been because the European Tour has changed their schedule a lot."

Because some of the top players passed on the Tournament of Champions, observers have expressed concerns that the event - for which only the year's previous winners are eligible - has lost some of its luster. The tournament has only one year on its contract.

But Finchem demurs. "I think this is a pretty special week at a pretty special place that's really become part of the game and something that most players certainly take advantage of, not just from a competitive standpoint, but also a family standpoint," he said. "So it may be that we want to tinker with the structure of the tournament and we'll look at that.

"I think from a Tour standpoint and a sponsor standpoint, we think this is a great week this week - I don't want to understate that. It is a great tournament."

He also said that Hyundai is firmly behind the event. "I know Hyundai is very pleased as a sponsor at this point," he said. "I think the (Golf Channel) telecast is superb, and most of the players that the fans are interested in - the young players coming up - are here, but we'll be taking a look at the different aspects of it this year.

"I wouldn't want to assume that we would make any changes, but we are certainly going to look at anything we can do with the players, on the one hand, and the structure of the tournament on the other."

He also has initiated talks with the owner of Kapalua, Tadashi Yanai, a Japanese billionaire who oversees the group that purchased the resort property for $50 million in 2009, to keep Plantation as the host course for the Tournament of Champions. "I had a very positive meeting in New York in the fall with Mister Yanai," Finchem said. "He seems quite enthusiastic about continuing. If I didn't feel that way, I would probably be chasing him down to go ahead. But no, I think everything is in good shape here."

The Hyundai Tournament of Champions is one of two tournaments this year with a prescheduled Monday finish. Finchem, who noted during the interview that the tournament might be moved back a week in the future, explained that this was done to allow players more time to travel to Maui after the holidays, and to avoid competition with the NFL playoffs, which took place both Saturday and Sunday. (The concluding holes of Monday's final round, however, will be going against the BCS National Championship football game involving LSU and Alabama.)

Here's what Finchem had to say during his wide-ranging media session.

MODERATOR: We welcome Commissioner Finchem to the media center here at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. I know you're excited for the beginning of the 2012 PGA Tour season. So how about some opening comments about the start of the year.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, okay, thanks for being here and making the trip over. We are excited about getting this year going, because we are still excited about the finish of last year to be honest. And I think what we are seeing this week is exciting. I think visually this week, I think I just said this on television, but visually this combination of HD television and now the aerial support that they have from a photography standpoint may be creating the best visual week that we have on the Tour. It's really quite spectacular. I watched a lot. I was supposed to get out here on Tuesday and I couldn't; so I watched the telecast on Friday and I thought it was just spectacular.

I think the two main reasons we are excited about the season are, first, this continuing growth of enthusiasm and excitement about the young players coming up, the number of young players, their athleticism, the success they enjoyed last year, we will see that that continues. Fans are really reacting to that; helped us a lot in our television negotiations; ratings were up last year. Secondly, we have a few more things to get done, but we are close to a point where we can really look out and see our future from a business standpoint, sponsorship standpoint for a good number of years, and that allows us to really focus on some of the things that can improve the texture of the sport and working with players. So for those two reasons, we are really excited about this year, and now happy that we are underway. I would say that I know I got asked earlier, and you may ask it - I'll just let you ask it (laughter) rather than assume questions. We are excited. We are ready to go, and I just wanted to spend you a little time with you and give you an opportunity to ask me that question and other questions.

MODERATOR: All right. Who has the first question.

Q. With the TV contracts done and things like that behind you, you say you can look off into the future; what is it you see when you look out there?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, opportunity, really. I think unless something changes, we seem to be handling a less than full-out economic situation, at least here in the United States in reasonably good form going back to 2007, 2008, doesn't seem to be holding us back. We are making progress and going. Maybe not the same rate we were during the great economy but a solid growth rate. So as I look out, I think the main thing of focus have to do with opportunity; the opportunity to take advantage of our new television agreements from a digital standpoint, because our plans are to digitize and show just about everything online on different platforms.

The opportunity to reach our fans onsite because we no longer have cell phone restrictions, and we are looking for new and innovative ways to communicate with fans while they are here at the tournament on smart-phones, and different ways to come up with the shape of the information that they get during the tournament that adds to the experience. By the same token, we find that a growing percentage of fans that are watching us on television are watching us - are following us on line at the same time. So improving the way we provide information to support the fans' interest in the sport that is supportive of the telecast; doesn't detract from the telecast but adds to the texture of the experience. We really want to be No. 1 in sports in those areas.

The opportunity to help grow the game globally leading up to the 2016 Olympics, when golf will re-enter the Olympics in Rio. We are seeing solid growth in the game around the world, and certainly the development of golf going to the Olympics is going to help fuel that. We have been part of a lot of that. We want to continue to be part of that. The opportunity to grow The First Tee Program, which has reached 4.7 million kids in the United States since 1997, teaching core values through the game of golf. We have set out on a course to raise $100million this year so that we can reach 10 million new kids in the next six years, and that will culminate at Pebble Beach on October 8.

If that is successful, we think that it not just reaches a lot of kids and not just reaches millions of kids with the game of golf and helps them by teaching them core values; but also the First Tee Program is very diverse, women and minorities make up significant percentages, and it helps us go down that road of making sure that golf is something that's successful to everybody. So there's a lot out there that is exciting and advantageous, and we are looking forward to that. But most of it has to do with opportunity.

Q. What, if anything, can the Tour do to get more winners to this event?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, you know, we are missing 10 or 11 people this year, and there's two things, really. I think one is we could ask players to stop having babies and stop falling off paddle boards and stepping on coral and falling down on snowboards and getting hurt. But half of those players either had a baby or got hurt. So nothing much we can do about that. That's true every tournament of the year. Maybe snowboarding a little bit more this time of year.

And then the other group are the European players, and the European players is a question mark because of obviously their season, their road to Dubai is later, much later than our FedEx Cup finals and Playoffs. It's impacted their scheduling. Now, whether that's a long term dynamic or not, I don't know. We'll evaluate it. We take note of the fact that a couple of players who had given up their membership, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood are coming back, indicating they want to compete for the FedEx Cup. So you have to play a lot to do that.

But having said all that, and we'll look at those things. I think this is a pretty special week at a pretty special place that's really become part of the game and something that most of the players certainly take advantage of, not just from a competitive standpoint, but also a family standpoint. So it may be that we want to tinker with the structure of the tournament, and we'll look at that. I know Hyundai is very pleased as a sponsor at this point. I think the telecast is superb, and most of the players that the fans are interested in, the young players coming up are here, but we'll be taking a look at different aspects of it this year. I wouldn't want to assume that we would make any changes but we are certainly going to look at anything we can do with players, on the one hand, and with the structure of the tournament on the other.

Q. Would that structure also include perhaps moving it back a week or two weeks and starting the season a little later, get away from the holidays?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Possibly. Although we had looked at - we are fairly up to speed. There are different parts of the season where you are constantly looking at movement. You look at the tournaments in April and May, you look at this time of year, you look between the U.S. Open and the British Open; we have looked at a lot of different changes, and we made some changes in the last couple of years. So I'm aware of the issues with movement here, and any time you do something we have a fully sponsored schedule. We are chock a block from this week right through forever.

So any time you move something, there's an action; there's a reaction. When you start moving things around, it's dominos. But, you know, and this one we looked at hard about three years ago, but we might look at that again. It involves a number of factors with other tournaments at this time of year, and we like to make decisions not based on any one week, but what's in the best overall interest of the Tour. So if you said, well, it's a wash, if we move "X" tournament, but it hurts "Y" tournament, we probably wouldn't want to do that. It's a complicated business from a scheduling standpoint, but we'll certainly look at those options as we review the situation, because we always do.

Q. Changing gears briefly back to opportunity, wondered where business aspects to it in relation to umbrella sponsors for the FedEx Cup and with what is now called the Nationwide Tour; obviously you're going to need a new sponsor for that.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: The only thing I'll say there is that we don't have anything to announce on either front at this point. As soon as we know that we have something to announce, we'll announce. But certainly those are two of four or five major priorities for us as we get into the first part of the year here.

Q. We learned that Phil is going to be back playing the Hope (Humana Challenge); Tiger played the Frys.com. Are you encouraged that the stars are trying to rotate it up a little bit with their schedules?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, yes. Any kind of rotation and getting into new markets or places they have not been in five or six years or a long time is a positive thing. It gives the fans not just a chance to see them but to see at least right now, it's a very important dynamic to the Tour, which is the juxtaposition of great veterans with young and upcoming players. So, yeah, we like that. We like to see that and we are delighted by that. Hopefully we'll see more of it.

Q. Can you tell us again, what was the decision to make this a Monday finish this year, and do you think is it going to be in the future, or is it up for reassessment every year?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: We'll assess it. I think two factors there. One is just moving the schedule around a little bit to make it more accessible to fans, given the football schedule. And then the other is it's always been a struggle this week in terms of the business to business side of the tournament for the sponsor to achieve success in getting customers, or in the case of autos, sometimes dealers, to come out and spend a number of days this close to the holidays. So the extra day there, it doesn't seem like much, but it is important.

So there's two factors there, and we'll evaluate both of them after this tournament, and we'll see if it was positive. It also gives - I don't think this is, candidly, particularly important, but I haven't studied it. Any time I want to study something, I hate to say it, I'll throw it out there, but it also with some players probably it makes some difference. I think the players that are playing here typically bring family and come earlier and use it for practice. This year, the weather pattern on the mainland has been warmer. So it may be it didn't make that much difference, but a lot of years it does. So that extra day may have an impact. But mainly, it's about business to business and football, and we'll evaluate that. I wouldn't assume necessarily we'll do any particular thing next year, but we'll take a look at it, and our television partners, and see what they feel about it.

Q. You called this a special place but just one more year left on the contract. Is Kapalua solid to continue hosting this event in your mind?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I think so. I had a very positive meeting in New York in the fall with Mr. Yanai. He seems quite enthusiastic about continuing. If I didn't feel that way, I would probably be chasing him down to go ahead but no, I think everything is in good shape here.

Q. That leads up to the question, I was going to ask you, if there was much made about moving this event to the West Coast, if that would enhance the field; more players would actually go to the West Coast than come to Hawaii. What are your thoughts on that?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don't agree with that, because of the ten or 11 players, and again, five of them were not able to play because they had a baby or they got hurt, so they are not going to play. And to a European player who has played deep, deep into November and December, can make the trip, it's not much difference to come from Europe. So I don't see that as a significant factor.

Q. And another question was -

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: And by the way, I think from a Tour standpoint and a sponsor standpoint, we think this is a great week this week. So I don't want to understate that. It's going to be a terrific tournament. It is a great tournament. There's nobody I would rather watch play golf than Steve Stricker personally as a fan, and he's out there leading, and some of these young guys. I don't hear any discussion about moving the tournament. I don't think that's - right now, at least, out of discussion.

Q. Following up on that, would the PGA Tour consider a co sanctioned event, a European Tour PGA Tour co sanctioning of this event, the Tournament of Champions?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, maybe, but we look at all possibilities. But again, Europe this is another one, I'm not so sure it makes any difference in this particular case on this particular week with The European Tour players who make a decision based on scheduling reality. I don't know if that makes a difference, honestly. But I don't know, go ahead and talk - here is what we do. This is the way our cycle works. We have a tournament, could be the Byron Nelson in Dallas. If 15 players that we were focused on didn't play Byron, we go ahead and talk to them about why. We try to understand players' thinking about scheduling.

We have always historically here, this is a week that's up against a lot of activity historically in South Africa and Australia. We didn't have a significant number of those players win tournaments and eligible this year. But we have had years when it was a problem, because two of the top five players South African and they had tournaments there. So it's always been an issue. I was a little surprised that it was five this year from Europe, but I don't think I should have been surprised because The European Tour has changed their schedule a lot. There are some other realities they have got to deal with. It's very preliminary and I wouldn't base much on what I'm saying now, because again, we haven't really studied it. We'll have more to say about it later in the year.

Q. One final question. How much impact does Commissioner Tim Finchem have on a player's decision-making? Can you say: I want you to play, I want you as a champion to show up for an event, like the Tournament of Champions?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: My philosophy has always been that I respect a player's decision to make their own schedule under the regulations that they want to be a voting member and take advantage of our retirement plans and are a member of the Tour and they have to play a certain number of events. How they play them is a decision they have to make. When we talk to players about moving their schedule around, it's a private conversation. We respect their decision regardless. I think that's the philosophy that we'll continue.

Having said that, last year we went out and asked players to move their schedule around and over 90 percent of players did in some fashion and it helped our fields, it helped our sponsors. It led to - helped; it was one of the things that led to a very significant, high percentage of sponsors' renewal, and players generally are supportive of helping us. When things happen with scheduling or whatever the result in a particularly weak field, I would not characterize this week as one of those, by the way. So we are pleased with the working relationship we have with players, particularly members of our tour, but also to some extent, members of other tours. We'll just see where things go. We talked a lot about this, and I just want to say for the third time, I'm very pleased about this week.

Q. Why not legislate that players as a part of membership have to play a different event each year so that you can get that remaining 10 percent on board?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, we looked at that. We looked at that last year. We said we don't like to legislate and tell players what to do unless it has an overriding importance. In this particular case, we asked for a volunteer; by now virtually, I'd say 90 percent, I couldn't tell you any players that haven't been helpful to be honest, including a couple of just referenced in your question about moving their schedules around the first quarter this year. So this is an ongoing process. We are doing very well with sponsors. Our sponsors are very pleased with the value equation on the PGA Tour; if they didn't, they would be spending their money elsewhere. There are multiple value streams that go to sponsors. Our price point is such that given that value, you are 100 percent sponsored. We don't have a crisis in this area and we have a very, very positive situation. When somebody writes an article like at Memorial that five of the top-25 players are not here or something, and somebody is sensitive to that, we are not going to start changing policies because of that.

Q. Looking at the big picture, what are your thoughts on the results of the Chevron Challenge last month, and how does that affect your outlook going forward?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, the results were somebody won the tournament. Is that the result you were talking about?

Q. Actually, charity was the big winner; right.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, if you're talking about Tiger, Tiger had three great starts. I happened to be in Australia the week before the Presidents Cup, and I was listening to the radio coverage. I was in Melbourne listening to the radio coverage on the last day, and I thought the announcers were going to come through the radio; they were so excited that he was in the hunt. And then he played great at the Presidents Cup and got the winning point, and he won. So he's got three nice starts. I know how hard his work ethic has been the last year and a half. I think he's - I sense that his confidence is coming back on greens; not that he's ever said there's any problem with his confidence, but he's putting better and striking the ball well. So I would look for him to have a very solid year this year, and that's a good thing for us.

Q. With golf, you talked about this a little bit earlier, but with golf going to the Olympics in the near future, do you see a day when there's a global tour?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I've said publicly a number of times over the years that I think eventually the odds are that golf will integrate globally in some fashion. You know, it's already taken some steps down that road. We started the International Forum of PGA Tours in 1994. A few years later, we converged it into the International Federation of PGA Tours, and that group started what are now the World Golf Championships. We repositioned the World golf rankings together. The same organizations have come forward to assume leadership of the World Golf Foundation. Same organizations have worked together on golf in the Olympics.

So the game of golf globally, and that includes the LPGA and the European women's tour, the game of golf globally has come a lot closer together from a strategy and working relationship standpoint. I think downstream, it probably means integration of competition in some fashion. But nobody's jumping up and down saying we have to do that tomorrow. I just think that eventually, the value of that, if you look at sports like soccer, tennis, that are globally integrated, that you can leverage content much better on a global basis. We are all out selling television rights globally. Television rights internationally have been a big part of our growth the last ten years. But to do that together would make sense.

So I have not been silent on that. That's my opinion. Whether it happens on my watch, that's problematic, because I'm not going to be here forever, contrary to popular belief. But I do think that there's a lot to be said for looking hard at that. I wouldn't characterize it as a world tour. I'm not so sure that's what it is, but I think the integration of the competition is something that could be looked at, and there are some models out there that you could start with. So we are focused on that. We have been for a long time. But things in golf take a long time, a long time. I'm shocked that the FedEx Cup - not shocked, but I'm pleasantly surprised that the FedEx Cup has become very much part of what PGA Tour golf is all about in five years. Normally, I mean, Players Championship has been around for 38 years, 37 years, and it's gradually grown in stature. It just takes time in golf; age and history support stature, and I think it will eventually come.

MODERATOR: Did we ask the question you were looking for?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: You did! I'm not going to tell you which one. (Laughter). Thank you very much.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.