LA JOLLA, Ca. – PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem gave what amounted to a State of the Game press conference Wednesday before the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
His comments ranged over a wide assortment of issues, particularly on his position on the eventual banning of anchor putters.
Here are his comments:
MODERATOR: Good morning. We’d like to welcome everyone to the Farmers Insurance Open. We have Commissioner Tim Finchem here. He’s going to start off making some opening remarks and then we’ll take a few questions.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Good morning, everyone. As you know, I’m here for a number of reasons, one of which was a player meeting last night and a meeting with our Player Advisory Council. So, given the fact that I was here, we thought it would be an opportunity to make myself available to answer whatever questions you have. Obviously, we’re delighted to be here this week at Torrey Pines. The tournament here and the partnership with Farmers has been a very, very positive thing. The tournament’s gotten better every year, the charity dollars are up, the presentation has improved. We have a great field so, we’re excited about this week. We’re off to a good start this year. We managed to get that first one in, barely, and the finishes have been solid and the weather has held up since then. So we’re off to a good start and looking forward to another good year coming off of what was really an exciting year last year. So with that, I’ll be happy to try to answer whatever questions you have.
Q. Could you summarize for us what you thought was accomplished last night at the players’ meeting, specifically, with the anchored strokes?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think the main purpose of the meeting was to give players an opportunity to talk about the proposed anchoring regulations, which was the first player meeting since they were announced late last fall by the USGA and the RNA. And it was the beginning of a process, whereby, the PGA Tour will provide the USGA a reaction to their proposal in the next few weeks. And that is a process, and it includes, obviously, a deliberation by our policy board, which will occur in the next few weeks also. So we were pleased that the USGA availed themselves of actually presenting the detail of the rule to the players, so the players, as a body, had an opportunity to understand some of the nuances of the rule. It also – their basis for moving forward at this time with the new regulation. It also gave the players an opportunity to provide their own perspective, in some cases, on the rule at this time for the benefit of the USGA to some extent. But then after the USGA left, we continued the discussion. It was primarily designed to allow players to be able to give their opinions.
Q. Is there any scenario in which the Tour would not go along with the rule?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, the Tour always has that option under our regulations. I think it’s the same as it’s always been in other rule situations. Our objective always has been to try our best to follow the rules as promulgated by the USGA and the RNA. We believe in the notion that one body of rules is important, and that’s always our intent. We just reserve the option not to, if we have overriding reasons not to do so. And that’s happened a couple of times. It happened with the “one ball rule” a ways back, it happened with grooves at the end of the 1980s, and early 1990s where we felt a different direction on groove configuration was important. So, yes. Technically there is that possibility. However, it certainly wouldn’t be our objective. Our objective is to follow the rules and keep the rules together. Now, having said that, the whole question of bifurcation is always out there to be discussed. Everybody has a different view on bifurcation. Most other sports have a different, some differences in their rules at the amateur level than the professional level. Personally, I think in some situations bifurcation is okay. I’m not so sure bifurcation is important in this particular case, but we’re not at a point yet where I am opining on what we think we should do. I think we’re in an information-gathering process right now, and it would be premature for me to speculate on that. But technically, the answer to your question is, yes, it’s possible.
Q. Did you find any differences in regards to basis or reasoning by the USGA yesterday versus when they made their presentation to you at Sea Island?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I’m sorry. I missed the first part of that.
Q. Did you find any differences in the basis, the reason why they were making the changes, yesterday when they were telling you why versus what they said at Sea Island?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don’t think so. I think there may have been some language nuances that were different. But I think fundamentally it was pretty much the same presentation.
Q. Can you give us an update on the status of the rules staff contract situation? Also, you made some comments last week about smoking that were pretty strongly worded, and NASCAR’s been banning smoking at some of their venues. Is that something you would ever considerate PGA Tour events?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Banning it at PGA Tour events?
Q. Yeah, no smoking allowed in grandstands and so on and so forth.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, California bans smoking at events. I remember at the Presidents Cup in ’09, Michael Jordan had to chew his cigar for three days because he couldn’t actually light it. So I’ll answer that one first. That was – not off the cuff, but an answer to a question I hadn’t expected. Let’s put it that way. Actually, the idea that you would criminalize smoking is probably not practical. Because then you have a black market for nicotine, et cetera, et cetera. However, taxing the hell out of it so people don’t use it is another option. It kills people so I think we should get rid of it. But as far as Tour events go, we haven’t had a lost complaints about a lot of smoking. You go around to our tournaments and you don’t see all that much smoking. We’re on 250 acres, but I hadn’t thought about it. Maybe we should do that. I don’t think there is any big down side. We’d probably have to have smoking zones, like we have hot zones for Wifi. Back to your first question, which was?
Q. Rules staff.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Rules staff. Yeah, the rules staff is unionized, as is our agronomy staff. We’re in negotiations with them. We were unable to reach an agreement by the end of their contract period. They’re work without a contract. It’s our hope and desire to get something done soon, and we’re pleased that they’re continuing to work without a contract. We think that’s very positive.
Q. Phil Mickelson a couple of days ago made some comments about taxation, and concerns that perhaps it was a bit on the high side. To what extent is your knowledge that those views that he expressed, shared by the other members of the Tour? And what general guidance do you offer the membership on how they should handle taxes?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I don’t know if I should comment on this, because I didn’t see everything he said. I didn’t understand what it is I saw. Because he seemed to be concerned about the reaction to his comments, but I didn’t see what the comments were that would have stimulated a reaction. So I don’t want to comment on what Phil said, because without talking to him and understanding. But, generally, people making decisions based on the tax rates in California on top of the Federal tax rates is not a unique thing. I mean, there are businesses relocating out of California because they can operate better in states that have lower tax rates, and that’s just – I saw a thing on the news the other day where there are like 30 states that are sending recruiters into California to convince businesses with tax incentives to move to their state. I remember 20 years ago there was an outing some place, and Dan Rostenkowski was the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and he was the chief writer of tax laws in our country. He was introduced to a player, I won’t name him, who lived in a Southeastern state, and he asked him, why do you live there? He said well, I grew up here and my family. He said, yeah, but you should live in Florida or Texas. You don’t have to pay any taxes. What? Are you an idiot? That was Dan Rostenkowski. I don’t think there’s any issue here about people making decisions based on tax rates. It happens all the time. New York and California are the leading impacters of that. But it’s not about people that play on the PGA Tour.
Q. After last night’s informational meeting and a chance to give players and allow them to express their opinions, what is the next step? Where do you go now in deciding how to react?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think we – we’re working off of the USGARNA timetable. They indicated they wanted to move toward is a completion of this process, I think they said by the end of March. So we will continue discussions with our Player Advisory Council and our board over those weeks and determine what that reaction would be. That’s pretty much what it is. This is a difficult – it’s kind of an interesting thing, and it’s a difficult thing. If the governing bodies had said in 1965, like they did after Sam Sneed came out and putted croquet style and a week later they changed the rule or whatever it was, if they had said, you know, this isn’t consistent with historically the way you swing a club, so we’re not going to allow it, nobody would have blinked an eye. Nobody would have been affected, except for maybe two players. But 40 years later, and the amount of play there is with that method, amateur and professional, it does affect a lot of people. So it’s a very different kind of issue, and it stirs a lot of strong feelings. So consequently, it’s a difficult situation. Personally, I view the professional game as being the strongest it’s ever been. So I don’t like to see distractions, but it’s not a perfect world. This is kind of a distraction. I do think it’s important to recognize that the people who want to see anchoring go away firmly believe that they have the best interest of the game at heart. The people who don’t think it’s necessary, I think, are equally robust in their enthusiasm for what’s best for the game. I hope as this process unfolds, we can keep that in perspective and have a conversation about it and discussion about it and debate about it that is positive, and thus far, I think that’s what has happened and hopefully that will continue.
Q. It seems like this issue about anchoring is not about a competitive issue. A, have you looked in or do you believe that to be the case? Have you, with all the resources you have at the PGA Tour, looked at the numbers to try to determine if, in fact, there is a difference between a person that putts with anchoring and not? And, secondly, if, in fact, you decide to go with the ban, will you try to or look at implementing the ban sooner than what the USGA has proposed?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, once you get past – I’ll answer the second part – once you get past the question of the rule change, there is going to be a rule change; then you get into some of the details. One of which is the timing, and that’s certainly a matter of discussion because, here again, on the one hand, if you’re presenting the sport, you probably, my view would be to move it quicker, if it’s going to happen because it continues to be a distraction if you don’t. You have players on television, in front of galleries, playing with a method that has been outlawed, even though the enforcement date is later. That’s in and of itself the makings of a distraction. On the other hand, if you’re a player who has grown up using that method, your livelihood depends on it, you probably are inclined to not want it to go into effect for a period of time. Here again, the issue is damned if you do, damned if you don’t to some extent, so it needs to be thought through carefully. The first part of your question had to do with?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Yeah, I don’t want to speak for the USGA on that question. They are approaching this not on the basis that it provides a competitive advantage, but it is inconsistent in their view with the way historically golf has been played up until the last four years and should be changed. No, we do not have any data, either, that indicates there is a competitive advantage among players to an anchoring method. If you talk to a lot of players, most, if not all of whom, regardless of which method they use, have tried the other method. Virtually every player on the PGA Tour at some point has spent time with anchoring method. Some of them practice with anchoring method because it helps their stroke. They will tell you, it is a skill in of itself as putting as a whole. It’s a different game. We all know there are two games in golf, full swing and putting. That within putting, anchoring, the anchoring method is a skill unto itself. It takes time, energy, effort, over a long period of time to develop that skill. But it doesn’t necessarily give you a competitive advantage against the player who isn’t using the method. There is certainly not a fairness question here. That’s really not on the table either, because obviously, if it’s legal, it’s available to everybody. So you might hit a 5-iron, I might hit a hybrid, but the hybrid is available to you. So I don’t think it’s a fairness question, and I don’t think the USGA is arguing it’s a competitive question. It’s a the-way-the-game-should-be-played question in their minds.
Q. Just to clear the air, Tim. Do you anchor your putter?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: No, but I did for a period of time in 2000. I sound like a Tour player. Worked for me for a while, but it doesn’t work for me (smiling).
Q. How much, if you do move to an earlier implementation, does the wraparound season present any problems?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, it does. There isn’t much to this that doesn’t cause some kind of problem. But you have to address that.
Q. What are the pros and cons, I guess, is what I’m looking for?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Largely, again, the whole question of distraction. I mean, if we start the season in October, and anchoring is going out the door in January, then some percentage of your energy is going to be talking about that. I’d rather your energy be devoted to how well players are playing that first week in October. So some of it, again, I don’t think it’s necessarily a fairness question. If the rule is going to go into effect, it’s got to go into effect some time. So it’s more of a presentation question, I think, and avoiding distractions as we try to get people to focus on how these guys play.
Q. Are you concerned of anyone suing? Any players filing a lawsuit over this
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Not necessarily. I haven’t heard any specifics about any particular player or conceivably, I suppose, a manufacturer filing lawsuit, and I don’t really worry about that kind of stuff. Lawsuits come and go and you have to deal with them, and they’re painful and expensive, but I just don’t know about that. I think we’re early in the process though, so, that could change.
Q. What is your perception of the players’ willingness to play with a different set of rules?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Oh, I think the players will play with the rules that they’re given. Oh, you mean with a set of rules that varies from the USGA?
Q. Yes. COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think there’s always, regardless of the issue, there’s always some level of sentiment that why don’t we be like the NBA? We’ll make our rules and then let college golf follow off of that, and amateur golf follow off of that. There is always some level of sentiment. It bubbles up from time to time when people take issue with the actual decisions that are made. I think at its core we all know there are rules in golf that don’t make a lot of sense. You just read them. So from time to time, they get addressed. So there is always some level of sentiment to that. I don’t know how to quantify it. There is no way I can quantify it. I do think that the USGA and RNA have been talking to us for the last year or two about the possibility of working on simplification of the rules of golf, which is probably a healthy thing. A set of rules that would be more easily understood by the average player and consequently more adhered to. So there are some things under discussion. But with respect to the general enthusiasm for moving to writing our own rules, there is always some level of interest in that.
Q. Is there enough time this year if you did an expedited move with the ban and started in the fall, is it even possible? The other question is the Champions Tour. Is there any option – have you talked to players and is there a request to grandfather this in on that Tour?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, there are different ways to look at that. First of all, theoretically there is enough time to do it this year, but that would depend on a lot of factors. If there was a bifurcation of the rules and everybody changed their mind about that, and there was some sort of bifurcation between amateur and professional, I suspect we’d look hard at bifurcating between the PGA Tour and the Champions. But I don’t see that developing right now. But I suppose, again, theoretically, it’s possible. Obviously, we have a high percentage of play with anchoring on the Champions Tour. It’s just one of those things. It’s a pretty good list of things that we’re looking at that has issues.
Q. Maybe not now, but down the road, do you think it’s inevitable that at some point there will be bifurcation?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, personally I think that it’s good that the basic rules of golf are the same. The game is played essentially the same at all levels. I think that should be – I think that’s a good thing for golf. However, I also believe that there are certain parts of the rules that could be bifurcated, and it wouldn’t hurt anything. I’ve always felt that way about the golf ball, for example, going back to the discussions of the ball in ’01 and ’02. And I hear people say, it’s a bad thing. Well, the golf ball was, in fact, functionally bifurcated for a good period of time. Professionally used up a lot of ball. Pretty much everybody else used a two-piece ball. It was a functional bifurcation. If you said, if the rule was okay, you’re a professional, you have to use a balata ball, and if you’re an amateur, it would have been the same effect. The presentation of the sport – when you get into the presentation of the sport though, I think you’ve got to be careful about bifurcation. This is one of those areas, I think. I think fundamentally we should play with the same rules, and make occasional adjustments. If it were up to me, there would be occasional adjustments where you could bifurcate in certain situations.