Prize money, China and Tiger: Speaking to the man who made the PGA Tour great

Tim Finchem
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem says the prospect of retirement is daunting

Tim Finchem is in his final days as the commissioner of the PGA Tour having held the role for 22 years. And the 69-year-old told BBC Sport that his desire to bring together the leading tours did not materialise as much as he would have wanted.

He is the man responsible for creating the FedEx Cup with its $10m first prize and the inception of the Presidents Cup that pits the US against the Rest of the World.

Finchem was also prominent in helping golf return to the Olympics.

Finchem explained why the PGA Tour is so attractive to overseas players, why - despite the influence of Tiger Woods - there are so few black faces on his circuit and admitted that the prospect of retirement is "daunting".

Back in June 1994, when he took over from Deane Beman, Finchem inherited a Tour that boasted $56.4m in prize money. As he departs, total purses are in excess of $300m.

"I have a lot of pride in what's been built and the progress we have made," said Finchem when we met close to the tour's Ponte Vedra Beach Headquarters in Florida.

The PGA Tour boasts assets in excess of $2bn and on 1 January 2017, Finchem's 46-year-old successor Jay Monahan will take control of an organisation that routinely attracts the best golfers.

Jay Monahan
Deputy commissioner Jay Monahan will take over from Finchem on 1 January

Throughout Finchem's tenure, Europe's leading players have enthusiastically headed stateside, attracted by vast prize funds and a lucrative pension fund that offers lifelong financial comfort.

The out-going commissioner also points out that his tour's time zone offers a very significant marketing platform for European golfers.

"If Sergio Garcia plays in the United States he gets probably better television penetration in Europe than if he played in Spain because we are on prime time there," Finchem said.

"Unfortunately, in the process of all that it has put pressure on the European Tour which is not a good thing in the long term and for other tours like Australia and South Africa.

"The opportunities here are so much better and that's why we feel strongly over time we have to do things that will help balance the strength of tours.

"It's not necessarily healthy for the next 25 years for everybody to wake up and want to come to the United States to play their golf."

Finchem's vision was to bring together the leading tours under one umbrella and believes it will still happen.

But the European Tour seems up for a fight. It is bullishly looking to compete to keep its players on their side of the Atlantic. Only last week their brash and energetic chief executive Keith Pelley said his Tour's attitude is "ambitious and aggressive."

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley
European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley

Finchem's undemonstrative, drawn-out style is the complete opposite of the fast-talking showman from Canada, now in charge at Wentworth. "I think Keith is a solid guy and comes from a good solid business background that should serve him well," Finchem observed.

"I think the challenges though are difficult. It is no secret, I think the best answer is that a new organisation be formed that represents professional golf on a global basis."

Finchem claims this vision would benefit all stakeholders, although given the scandals engulfing world football, the illustrative analogy he chooses might have been better.

"Like Fifa does with soccer," he said. "That can best take advantage of golf being in the Olympic Games and can offer consistent delivery of value, which is missing now.

"It is very uneven globally. I think steps like that would help."

While Finchem accepts there are "many good reasons" why this has not happened, his biggest frustration is the lack of progress in this direction during his tenure.

"I wish I could have seen that a little further down the road," he said.

The biggest influence during his time in charge has undoubtedly been Tiger Woods. Finchem was two years into his job when the man who went on to win 14 majors first arrived on the scene.

Tiger Woods at the 1997 US Masters
Tiger Woods made his PGA Tour debut two years into Finchem's time in charge

"It helped fuel everything we were trying to do," said the out-going commissioner.

But despite having a black man dominate the game for the best part of two decades, there has been no significant increase in elite players emerging from communities beyond traditional white-dominated golfing heartlands.

Finchem claims it would be unrealistic to expect otherwise. "The idea that you can start getting minorities into junior programmes is one thing, having some of them go to the highest level is a whole other challenge."

He reels off the expense and investment required to turn a promising youngster into a star; coaches, physical trainers, psychologists as well as facilities and says he has talked about this transitional process with the head of the United States Golf Association.

"I've had discussions with Mike Davis," he said. "We probably need an interface in between bringing very young kids into the game and then having programmes that do focus on taking them to the elite level."

Finchem, who will now devote more time to his role with the First Tee initiative aimed at attracting young American golfers, envisages emulating Chinese athletic programmes.

They have created a production line of Olympic talent in other sports and he sees this as an opportunity for golf to capitalise on its return to the Games.

Bubba Watson at Rio 2016
Team USA's Bubba Watson at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Finchem had a big hand in golf's return to the Games

Finchem remains full of ideas, but concedes that it is time to walk away. That, he admits, brings personal challenges.

"You talk to anyone who has run a company or had that level of responsibility for a lengthy period of time and they step away, a lot of them have great difficulty," Finchem said.

"I travel on average 180 days a year, an enormously challenging schedule and you just do it year after year and it becomes part of your DNA and then all of a sudden it is going to change significantly. It is somewhat daunting."

His candour is surprising because Finchem doesn't do emotional. For more than two decades he has been almost robotic in his public pronouncements - careful, measured, calm, not very exciting and often tediously boring.

That is his business style and for the most part it has been to the great benefit of the players of the PGA Tour. It steadied the organisation through the economic crash of 2008 without losing a tournament.

But even this most hard-nosed of administrators allows himself a misty-eyed moment as he contemplates a future working on his own golf rather than for the sport's top players.

"I think I'm OK with it," he smiled. "But every once in a while I get a little bit nostalgic because I love working with this group of people."

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