This Week in Golf: What will be Tim Finchem’s legacy?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Moving the WGC Dell Match Play to the Austin Country Club and continuing with a revamped format that saw three days of round robin play before knock-out matches began was supposed to revitalize the event. Did it work and what was your reaction to the golf course?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I didn’t pay much attention to the round robin, but then, I don’t pay much attention to the first three days of a tournament, or the regular season in NHL hockey.  The round robin seemed to be fairly meaningless.  Nonetheless, the tournament came down to 2 of the 3 top players in the world squaring off in a semi-final, which is pretty good.  The final was a bit of a let-down, simply because it ended so early. I thought the golf course looked great… lots more interesting than the usual bomb-it, wedge-it, stroke-it tracks they usually play.

Frank Mastroianni, Freelance Writer: I enjoyed the format, which was also used last year, as well as the golf course. Whether it revitalizes the event or not is up for debate. I think for the players it’s a lot of golf in a pretty busy time leading up to The Masters. But either way I enjoy match play and would like to see more of it.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I was not a fan of the round robin before the tournament began and I like it even less now, having sat through three days of it.  There is no excitement knowing that a player who loses on Wednesday will still get two more chances of booking a spot into the weekend.  Austin CC, on the other hand, was a great match play venue.  Its combination of toothy greens, both drivable and mammoth par 4s, and some of the more unique and challenging short par 3s that I have ever seen makes me excited for the event in 2017.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I made the point last week that I prefer the single knock-out style of match play but understand the need to keep more players around longer. Actually, having 32 round-robin matches a day was cool. It’s always fun to see head-to-head competition but those matches need to go extra holes in the event of a tie and declare a winner. The first day I saw Austin Country Club, I said to myself, “I want to play there!” It’s obviously quite scenic but quirky too. Love the holes by the bridge. I think the PGA Tour hit a home run with this course, Dell as a sponsor and the city of Austin. A few tweaks to the format should complete the transformation.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The event was on life support the past few years on a series of bleak courses with no galleries and little interest among players and fans. The 12,000 a day at the Austin CC seemed like more. And Dell’s commitment to park the tourney for a while, and the new format, will help too. That Dye layout sure ain’t for the members’ enjoyment but makes for good TV. I’m sure the club champion is in therapy after watching Day and Rory going into par 5s with 8 and 9 irons.

Craig Loughry, GAO Director of Handicapping (@craigloughry): LOVE LOVE LOVED the golf course. Pretty fancy greens and meandering fairways. It was well setup for match play too. Day even raved about the course and I could see this being a long marriage. What I don’t like is the round-robin format; it bastardizes the true nature of match play. Coincidentally, it is the complete opposite view of what makes March Madness in US College basketball so great. But I understand why they do it: sponsor appeasement and TV ratings (by helping the highest ranked players in the world reach further rounds). I’m certain if you were asked which match would you watch: Day vs McIlroy or Pieters vs Wiesberger, we all know what the answer would be unless you’re related to either Pieters or Wiesberger, and even then you may not pick their match (no offence to those players).

Tim Finchem announced that he would step down as Commissioner of the PGA Tour at the end of this year. What will Finchem’s legacy be and what might he have done differently?

Quinn: Finchem’s legacy is largely based on the glory days of Eldrick. The TV contract at the height of Tigermania shaped his term in office and the modern game, and created a big enough war chest for the WGC events and The Players’ Championship to survive growing pains and misguided hype. It would be a better Tour if he hadn’t birthed the wrap around season and hadn’t forced all the TPC intrusions into what was a free market.

Mumford: Finchem certainly gets credit for the explosive growth of prize money for players and contributions to charity. While Tiger Woods drove the Tour’s increased popularity, Finchem was still the one to make it all work. His legacy of constantly growing the game and pushing the PGA Tour brand around the globe is mostly positive, although the Tour was always the elephant in the room and some smaller stakeholders that were steam-rollered in the process might not react as kindly. In my analysis, Finchem gets a black mark for the Tour’s lack of transparency on drug violations and player suspensions. His style was rarely subtle and often infuriating but all in all, he will leave the Tour in a much stronger position than he found it and that’s a very good thing.

Deeks: In my view, Finchem was the perfect keeper of the flame that was started by Joe Dey, magnified a hundred-fold by Deane Beman, then grown and nurtured by Finchem. The PGA Tour continues to be professional sports’ best-run, most respectable organization… despite the little nits we often we pick with it.  Finchem’s legacy will probably be what Beman’s was — i.e., television contract, and therefore, major revenue expansion… in spite of a decline in overall golf popularity.  The Senior Tour has declined recently under Tim’s watch, but I’m not sure that’s his fault so much as the reluctance of marquee names like Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Nick Price to support it.

Loughry: Finchem sure did some fancy footwork on the latest TV deal, even if watching it daily left most households directly. The Players should love him, he did help grow purses. I’ve never been warm to him, but nor can I overly criticize him on anything either.

Mastroianni: I think it’s reasonable for me to say that most people would consider me to be part of the “hardcore” group of golfers in that much of my life revolves around the game. With that said, I don’t care to know much about Tim Finchem and/or his legacy and I think the majority of people who watch or play golf would say the same. I skip over Tim Finchem like the previews at the beginning of a DVD (hopefully people still know what those are) and do the same for most of golf’s “establishment” because, quite frankly, they haven’t known what they are doing for the last 50 years.

Kaplan: Whether you like him or hate him, Finchem has been a major part of the PGA Tour’s growth over the last 20 years.  In that time, he has brought in a number of major sponsors and boosted event purses.  His Fed Ex Cup may be a bit of a sloggy mess, and it may directly compete with MLB playoffs, but it still creates excitement at a time in the PGA Tour calendar season when there used to be none at all.  Certainly, his biggest knock will be the lack of transparency concerning player drug tests during his time as the Circuit Czar.  Can’t argue with that criticism.

Despite every effort from the aforementioned Mr. Finchem to pump up the value of the WGC events and the Players Championship, top players, golf fans and historians continue to measure success in terms of the four majors. Is that likely to change?

Deeks: Doubtful that will change, although I’d say that the Player’s prestige is actually higher than the PGA’s today. Yet no one will ever suggest that the one replace the other as the fourth major, nor add TPC as a fifth.

Mastroianni: The majors will always be the majors…that will never change. But I don’t think anyone can argue that a WGC or Players Champ doesn’t hold more weight than a regular Tour event. Additionally, I think winning even one major, just one, serves to elevate the status of any WGC and/or Players’ wins a player accumulates. For example, 1 major and 3 WGC’s looks way better than 5 WGC’s, and for some reason, those 3 WGC’s seem that much more important.

Loughry: NEVER. Golf will always use the Majors as the measuring stick (for golfers and events). Olympics, WGC events, Players Championship will not change that. Sorry. Those events will be significant in their own way but on a lesser scale. Look at the WGC events: how the hell do you call them WORLD events when they’re hosted 99% of the time on US soil? Granted, there’s an international field but not all that much different than Majors or other events for that matter, other than the fields in MAJORS being deeper, much deeper.

Quinn: They are called the majors for good reason, and they will always rank above any and all other confections of the Finchem variety. Still, The Players’ Championship is fifth on the list of ‘must-see’ tournaments each ‘calendar year’ season.

Kaplan: That is never going to change.  Many of my friends won’t even turn on golf unless it’s a major.  We measure success and greatness in terms of performance on the biggest stages and that is what the major tournaments are. It doesn’t matter what your track record is like at WGC events or at the Players — your career, at the end of the day, will simply be measured by the number of majors you have won.

Mumford: Who’s to say how historians and golf fans will view the four Majors in another 50 or 100 years? The “majors” used to include amateur championships and until the 1980’s, a player’s Major record still included the British and United States Amateurs. Jack Nicklaus focused attention on the four professional majors by building his schedule around them and Tiger Woods further increased that focus by chasing Nicklaus. Heroes and their records have staying power. Baseball fans, who probably have more stats than all other sports combined, have been fascinated with home runs at least since 1915 when the Sultan of Swat nailed his first dinger over the fence at the Polo Grounds in New York. Until somebody can show that Nicklaus’ record of 18 professional majors is irrelevant, Majors will remain the gold standard.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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