PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tim Finchem was facing a crossroads in his career. While certainly happy with his position as PGA TOUR deputy commissioner, the appeal of running his own company began to tug at him. Even as a kid, he always wanted to be the leader. Was it time to find that job?
He wasn’t sure it would happen at TOUR headquarters.
After all, then-Commissioner Deane Beman was just 55 years old, and his potential for longevity loomed large. Finchem loved working at the TOUR and loved working under Beman, but he never lusted after his boss’ position for one simple reason — he never figured it would be vacant. Other options, he grudgingly concluded, might need to be explored.
Then Beman dropped the bombshell. It was January, 1994. The two were in Palm Springs, California. So was Dick Ferris, the then-chairman of the PGA TOUR Policy Board. Beman told both men at the same time – after 20 years as Commissioner, he was planning to retire. He wanted to resume his playing career, this time as a member of the then-Senior PGA TOUR, the over-50 outlet for the legends of the game that Beman himself had formed in 1980. (You know it now as PGA TOUR Champions).
Suddenly, the opportunity opened up for Finchem. Fate had dealt him a path to his dreams. Yet he left that meeting with mixed emotions.
“I wasn’t happy about it because I enjoyed working with Deane a great deal,” Finchem recalls. “It saddened me when he left.”
And yet, the more Finchem thought about it, the more Beman’s decision seemed obvious.
A few years earlier, Beman had played in the 1990 Senior British Open at Turnberry, even taking the lead through 54 holes before horrific weather left him shooting a final-round 81 (a missed 8-foot par putt on the final hole dropped him into a tie for second behind Gary Player).
Having won four times on the PGA TOUR, Beman was feeling the competitive juices again. His practice-range sessions in those final years as Commissioner took on more structure and substance. “Maybe that should have given me an inkling that he wanted to compete,” Finchem says now.
By October, 1994, Beman was indeed competing again. As for Finchem? He was four months into his tenure as Commissioner.
While he didn’t officially take over until June 1 of that year, the announcement that Finchem was assuming the reins came in May when he was at the GTE Byron Nelson Championship. That allowed him to share the news with the tournament’s namesake. Hard to imagine a better way to start a new job than with Lord Byron himself.
“I was totally pumped,” Finchem remembers.
Finchem then traveled to Alabama to inform the players at the PGA TOUR Champions event then known as the Bruno’s Classic. Among those in the field was Arnold Palmer, one of Finchem’s childhood heroes.
“It was on from there,” Finchem says. “It was just terrific.”
Someone took a photo of Finchem and Palmer together that day. Ever since, Finchem has carried that photo in his wallet – including on Monday when the PGA TOUR Policy Board, in an unanimous vote, formally approved Jay Monahan’s appointment as Finchem’s replacement. While Monahan won’t officially take over until Jan. 1, 2017, the decision was revealed to the PGA TOUR staff at a special afternoon meeting.
Among the people in attendance at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse were, appropriately enough, Deane Beman and Dick Ferris. It seems fitting that those three men were once again together for an momentous TOUR annoucement, just as they were back in 1994.
At age 69, Finchem is stepping down. It ends 22 extremely productive years for the TOUR under his leadership.
Official prize money has gone from $90.8 million on three Tours to $401.4 million on six. Charitable giving to the communities where those events are held reached a record $161 million last year and has far exceeded $2 billion overall.
The FedExCup has given the PGA TOUR a defined season, a big-bang finish and kept the game’s best players competing against each other well into the fall. The Presidents Cup and the World Golf Championships were created to showcase the influx of international talent and provide additional opportunities to grow the game.
Those are just a few of the ways the TOUR landscape has changed in the last two decades under Finchem’s guidance.
“The way the TOUR looks in 2016 compared with when Tim got the chair, it’s astonishing the difference,” former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy says. “It’s been incredible. I guess on a global scale, the PGA TOUR has always been the premium tour, but it’s not even a decision anymore. It’s just by far and away really the only place that anyone wants to play the best players in the world.
“It’s been an impressive, impressive era.”
And just think – had Deane Beman not wanted to play more golf, it might never have happened.
Tim Finchem grew up like many kids in the 1950s. He had a paper route and performed other odd jobs. But rather than spend his earnings on candy or going to the movies, he worked in order to play golf.
His father Harold, a career Marine, let his 8-year-old son tag along when he played golf with his buddies. Finchem, the oldest son in a family of six children — three boys and three girls — soon was hooked.
An all-day pass at the golf course at the Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek was just $1. Finchem, flush from delivering the newspaper, would play twice a week in the summer, practically sun-up to sundown, as many as 54 holes a day.
A few weeks before Finchem’s 10th birthday in 1957, his dad, at the time stationed at Camp Lejeune, took his son to the Azalea Open in Wilmington, North Carolina. Arnold Palmer won the tournament. It was the fifth of Palmer’s 62 career TOUR wins, and the second of what would be a four-win season.
It was also the beginning of Finchem’s lifelong appreciation for Palmer and eventually an important connection and friendship between the two men – one that wouldn’t conclude until Sept. 25 of this year when Palmer passed away. A few days later, Finchem spoke at the memorial service in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
“I was just mesmerized by Arnold Palmer and what he could do on the golf course – the whole package,” Finchem recalls. “It’s just funny that years later, I got into a situation where he could tell me what to do all the time.”
Though nearly half his adult life has been spent at the PGA TOUR, Finchem didn’t set out to work in sports administration. He attended the University of Richmond on a debate scholarship and graduated in 1969, then received his law degree from Virginia four years later.
Finchem credits his mother Margaret with helping hone the communication skills that enabled him to earn that scholarship to Richmond. He remembers making his first speech as a Boy Scout when he was 11 or so. He later would argue a case before Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the Lile Moot Court competition at Virginia.
“At a very young age I just found myself comfortable with different kinds of people – whether it was a bricklayer or a banker,” Finchem said. “It doesn’t really matter, and I could communicate with them.”
Not that he’ll ever be considered the most dynamic of speakers. Whether he’s answering questions from the press or discussing policy in a board room, he speaks with a straight-forward, matter-of-fact approach.
As Jim Furyk jokes, “He’s definitely not going to do any church sermons anytime soon – at least if he wants to keep anyone awake.”
But that’s the public side. Privately, adds Furyk, the commissioner is more apt to let his guard down. “Most people don’t know him personally and see the personality, see the warmth and see a person that genuinely cares,” says Furyk, who lives close to TOUR headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. “Because of being a public figure, it’s real dry, it’s real concise. I think what most people miss really is how great of a person he is. He is someone I have enjoyed hanging out with.”
When Ronald Reagan knocked Jimmy Carter out of the White House in 1980, Tim Finchem was one of many looking for a job. His friend from law school, Tim Smith, mentioned that the PGA TOUR was looking for a general counsel.
Was Finchem interested in that job?
“I like golf,” Finchem remembers telling his buddy. “So I’d definitely consider it.”
Nothing ever came of it, though, and eventually Finchem started his own consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Three months later, Finchem ran into Smith.
”Whatever happened to that job?” asked Finchem.
“I took it myself,” replied Smith.
In retelling the story last week, Finchem – a wry smile crossing his face – added the kicker: “He’s a good friend.”
But the PGA TOUR, which was beginning to branch out and develop its Tournament Players Clubs, soon became one of Finchem’s clients. He did market research for TPC at Avenal, as well as some work for the TOUR on Capitol Hill, and quickly impressed Beman.
In 1987, the job as vice president of business affairs opened up at the TOUR. This time, Finchem was hired. Within a year, he was Beman’s deputy commissioner.
“I saw in him a smart, articulate and hard worker, an intuitive worker, and somebody who basically when he was asked and assigned to do something, I didn’t have to worry about it,” Beman said.
The two quickly formed a close working relationship. But their most important discussions weren’t limited to TOUR headquarters. Whenever the two traveled together, Beman would pick up Finchem and the two would ride to the airport, discussing business and brainstorming ideas.
The conversation continued while they were on the plane … and again on the way back home after their trip, again with Beman doing the driving.
One of the last ideas the two concocted while driving to the airport was The Presidents Cup.
At the time, international players were clearly making an impact on golf’s landscape. The Australian great, Greg Norman, was the world’s No. 1 player. Ernie Els was months away from winning his first of two U.S. Opens.
But there was no Ryder Cup-style arena in which those players from outside Europe could compete. So a plan was hatched, which would be given added stature with the support of various heads of state.
That was in April. The first competition was to be held in September at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Manassas, Va. To create a quality event on such a tight timeline was a challenge many thought the TOUR shouldn’t accept. Announce it, sure. But wait a few years to get all the plans made and executed.
Beman now calls it an “almost impossible assignment.” In one of his last big decisions as commissioner, he tasked Finchem to bring it to fruition. In the meantime, the transition from Beman to Finchem as TOUR Commissioner was well underway.
It was a busy time. But Beman had faith that Finchem could get it done. Convincing two-time U.S. Open champ Hale Irwin to captain the U.S. team gave the TOUR confidence to keep moving forward, and things fell into place after that.
“It went beautifully,” Beman says now. “The first one was a very important success.”
It was also a very important first step for Finchem’s early days as Commissioner. As it turned out, all those discussions during their trips to the airport and on the plane had a wide-ranging impact.
It wasn’t just about the TOUR’s business. It was about the TOUR’s future. Without really knowing it at the time, Finchem was being groomed as the TOUR’s eventual leader.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Deane, what it’s like to be commissioner?’ “ Finchem says. “I knew it. I learned it and I did it. I was his only report, so I managed the business, the day-to-day operations and everything anyway. It was a great lesson in transition.”
Two years earlier, Beman had no timeline to retire but he had already figured out that Finchem should be his successor. Now in 1994, that time had come.
His parting words were simple.
“I said, ‘Tim, the advice I’m giving you is keep doing what you’ve been doing and forget about me, because I’m not going to be looking over your shoulder,’” Beman recalls.
“I said, ‘I served in this job for 20 years, and I had all the second‑guessers in the world, and you don’t need (another) one looking over your shoulder.’”
When Tim Finchem took over as Commissioner in 1994, Jack Nicklaus was eight years removed from his last, and epic, victory at the Masters. Some wondered whether golf could survive without a transcendent player.
Two years later, Tiger Woods left Stanford, signed with Nike and greeted his soon-to-be-adoring fans with “Hello, world.” Question answered.
“I love Jack Nicklaus beyond belief, but I have to put Tiger down as probably the greatest player to ever play, and the way he did it and his domination at a time when you’re bringing more and more good players along, is incredible,” Finchem says.
“It lifted all boats. I always refer to it as kind of like Michael Jordan in the NBA. He just lifted boats and brought in so many new fans to the game and charged it.”
But it wasn’t simply a matter of rolling out the golf balls. Finchem realized the opportunity of being commissioner in the Tiger Woods era was huge for the TOUR’s future and well-being – as long as the right moves were made.
From Woods’ perspective, the decisions made by Finchem benefitted not only the TOUR and its players, but also the sport in general.
“In my opinion, his biggest impact, I think is the growth of the game and the healthiness of our sport,” Woods says. “He’s taken our sport to another level … not just the TV aspect but into the digital age.
“This is a totally different world and there are so many different platforms in which we can now participate and view golf and be part of the game of golf. And he was responsible for all that.”
There is no doubt that Woods’ domination and universal appeal enhanced Finchem’s ability to attract sponsors. But at the same time, Woods played a limited schedule each year and has battled significant injuries off and on since winning his last major in 2008.
This most recent extended layoff of more than 14 months has allowed the TOUR to showcase players like reigning FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, who was recently voted Player of the Year.
“The lesson there is that fans like golf,” Finchem says. “They demonstrated that they like having a dominant player. Can he beat this record? Can he beat that record?
“They also like having a bunch of young guys competing at a fairly level way. It’s like the big three, but it’s the big five or the big six. So either way has demonstrated that we can grow, and I think that’s a good lesson for the future.”
That is not to say there haven’t been challenges during Finchem’s tenure. Most notable among them was the economic downtown in 2008 and ’09 that saw five of the TOUR’s corporate sponsors go bankrupt.
Instead of getting worn down by the negativity, Finchem encouraged his staff to focus on how the TOUR could come out of the situation ahead.
“There’s always a silver lining in everything,” he says. “If you concentrate on that, you should at least feel better. So I think that was the toughest one, but I think our folks worked very hard and we came through it pretty well.”
Perhaps another sport or another business wouldn’t have survived as well. Finchem never ceases to appreciate the people he’s dealt with in golf, whether they’re TOUR staffers or just fans who love watching the world’s best players in any given week.
“I’ve traveled all over the world,” he says. “People in golf are wonderful people, thousands and thousands and thousands of them, and I always wonder whether good people come to golf or golf impacts people and creates better people.
“I suppose it’s a combination of both.”
Monahan, who joined the TOUR in 2008, believes Finchem has brought stability to the sport.
“This was especially important during the economic downturn of 2008 where he steered the TOUR successfully through a tough time for sponsor-driven sports,” Monahan says.
“Not only did the TOUR survive during that time, it thrived.”
Legendary NFL quarterback Peyton Manning was at a dinner several years ago. So was Tim Finchem. Manning was asked what he planned to do when he quit playing football.
He directed his gaze toward Finchem across the room and joked, “He’s no spring chicken – and I like golf.”
As it turns out, Finchem is retiring as commissioner in the same year that Manning retired from football. Of course, Manning knows that being PGA TOUR commissioner doesn’t mean you get to play 18 holes every day. Anybody who works at the TOUR can attest to that.
“We always tell people we hire, don’t expect your handicap to go down when you come here,” Finchem says with a smile.
Perhaps that dedicaton to the job and not the next tee time is why Finchem cites the staff he has developed at TOUR headquarters as one of the greatest accomplishments of his tenure.
“The best team in sports,” Finchem says, “and I think a lot of people outside of sports see that.”
The team’s new leader is the 46-year-old Monahan. He has served as deputy commissioner since 2014 and was also named COO of the TOUR in April. His other positions include chief marketing officer, executive vice president and senior vice president of business development.
Monahan came to the TOUR in 2008 to be executive director of THE PLAYERS. He also ran the Deutsche Bank Championship, now called the Dell Technologies Championship, and was an executive vice president for the Fenway Sports Group, the parent company of the Boston Red Sox.
Just as Beman was confident back in 1994 that it was Finchem’s time to run the TOUR, Finchem is just as confident that it’s now Monahan’s time to shine. His one piece of advice?
“Just relax, you’re going to be great,” Finchem says. “He has a stronger skill set for this job than I did when I became commissioner.”
Love adds, “I get the sense now that (Finchem) doesn’t want to quit working or retire from the TOUR because he loves it. But he’s found the right person to take over for him and knows it’s time.”
Another thing that Finchem is particularly proud of are the relationships he’s built with the players. It gives him strength to see what they are capable of achieving. In fact, on the rare occasions when he has a bad day, Finchem likes to attend a tournament. It helps him recharge.
“You just feel it,” he says. “You feel the energy and excitement about what we’re doing and what these players do.”
The next time he attends a tournament, Finchem can view it from a different perspective, perhaps just as a fan – albeit one who helped shape the event he’s enjoying.
Meanwhile, he’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife Holly and four children. They’ll travel more now for pleasure instead of business.
Yet, Finchem knows he’ll miss the energy at the office each day. “It’s addictive, candidly,” he says with a smile. “I don’t recall ever having a day that I didn’t enjoy working in this job with these great people.”
Finchem won’t totally give up the suit-and-tie like Beman did. He plans to work with the board of The First Tee, one of his pet projects, and will be available if Monahan wants to pick his brain or to meet with a sponsor.
An avid skier in the winter, Finchem wants to get his golf handicap down from a 7 to a 4. Toward that end, instead of spending two-thirds of his time on the practice range and one third on the course like he’s been doing, he’d like to reverse those percentages.
“President Bush was with us a few weeks ago, and he was talking about a guy down at his club in Dallas, 83 years old and plays golf every day,” Finchem recalls. “And he said, ‘All I want in life is to do that when I’m 83, and then I’ll be a happy camper.’ ”
Love, who won his 21st PGA TOUR event at the age of 51 last season, has spent time at Finchem’s home in Colorado, and their families have vacationed together in Canada, as well.
In fact, the two friends have what Love called “the TOUR record that may never be broken.” Both have backed out on fishing trips with Jack Nicklaus — not once, but twice.
Love says he’s teasingly asked Nicklaus, “We’re never going to get invited back, are we?”
Jack’s response? “You are,” he joked. “We’re going to forget Tim.”
Says Love about Finchem: “I’m hoping that in both of our retirements, slowing down, that we’ll get to do more of that kind of stuff. I can’t keep up with him hiking or jogging, but I can keep up with him on the mountain on my snowboard.”