Fan phone-ins take center stage in Tour address

Tim Finchem addressed the media Tuesday at the Tour Championship.

Tim Finchem addressed the media Tuesday at the Tour Championship.

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ATLANTA – Tim Finchem has been the commissioner of the PGA Tour since 1994, but rarely during his tenure has he had as few things to address as he did on Tuesday.

On the eve of the first wraparound season in PGA Tour history, Finchem proudly could say his tour was fully subscribed as the last three uncertain tournaments have found sponsors. Among the most recent announcements, the Tour’s Tampa stop found a four-year title sponsorship in Valspar, a global leader in the paint and coatings business. Hyundai renewed in Hawaii, as did Sanderson Farms in Mississippi.

Finchem also touched on possible changes to the FedEx Cup playoffs, saying the Tour may look at subtle tweaks after this year to eliminate volatility. He also addressed potential pace-of-play solutions (none was in the works), the growing popularity of younger Tour players among the Tour’s fan base and increasing strength of Tour venues.

Still, the biggest topic that Finchem discussed was the rules issue from the BMW Championship that resulted from Tiger Woods' incurring a two-shot penalty for causing his ball to move and not replacing it. The infraction was caught in a close-up shot by a freelance Tour videographer.

“We’ve been talking about it and looking at it over the years,” Finchem said at the possibility of prohibiting viewers from making phone calls when they see a potential rules violation. “I think twice we’ve actually got pretty serious about it.”

Finchem went on to say that such a change is intertwined with three or four viewpoints. Among them: When is it reasonable to accept outside information? Should there be a time limit on outside information?

“There’s two sides to the story,” Finchem said. “It’s not an easy argument one way or the other. I think it’s cumbersome and difficult and awkward sometimes.”

Finchem went on to say that Tour officials would probably take a harder look at it once the season is complete.

But will they? The Tour just went through an exhausting exercise about anchored putters and in the end, decided that it was unwilling to split from the Rules of Golf and didn’t want to make and enforce its own set of rules.

By fundamentally changing the way the rules are enforced, the Tour would be doing just that and leaving the rules eventually in tatters.

“I think it only strengthens – when we have fans calling in after watching it on TV – it strengthens the rules of the game and strengthens how good we have to be,” said Peter Jacobsen, honored Tuesday with the Payne Stewart Award.

If the Tour is serious about such a change, Finchem made it clear that officials first would go to the rulesmaking bodies, the U.S. Golf Association and R&A.

“Sure, we go talk to the USGA and R&A,” Finchem said. “Our batting average with them hasn’t been real good the last year, but we’d have a nice conversation with them, and then it would be we’d have to decide what we want to do.”

It’s clear that any action regarding a significant rules change such as this would not happen in a vacuum or overnight.

And ultimately, would Finchem use whatever political capital the Tour has with players and the governing bodies to make such a fundamental change?

“I don’t have a strong view one way or the other,” Finchem said of the issue of fans calling in. “I don’t like it sometimes. It feels awkward when it happens. On the other hand, I hate to say it’s part of the tradition of the game because actually, you can’t really argue that. It’s changed with the degree of television we have. So I don’t know. I think we need to do some more thinking about it. I think people in the game need to think about it.”

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