2006: PGA Tour commissioner- Who's next?
When Deane Beman retired in 1994 as commissioner of the PGA Tour, he left his successor, Tim Finchem, a pro circuit idling on the cusp of prosperity. Speaking then about the Tour’s future, Peter Jacobsen, the player and former Tour Policy Board member, summed it up best: “Deane built a Mercedes; all Tim has to do is keep his foot on the gas.”
It has been full speed ahead since. But just a few months ago at The Players Championship, Finchem put pen to paper, and with little fanfare, signed his final contract extension as commissioner. If he fulfills its terms – which will pay him a reported $4.5 million annually through 2012 – he will have served 18 years as the Tour’s chief. With the distinct possibility that the 59-year-old Finchem may step down even sooner, a question begs to be answered.
Who gets the keys next? Of course, being a frontrunner now guarantees nothing considering the Tour landscape will change during the next six years. But the jockeying for position has begun among hopeful candidates, and the race already is of keen interest to industry politicos and Tour insiders. A few names have emerged as the early favorites. Others are lurking and may prove to be the most serious contenders.
There is, however, much for Finchem to do. Next year alone there’s the FedEx Cup to launch, The Players Championship and its new clubhouse to christen in May. And six years from now there is one more TV network deal for Finchem to negotiate, which likely will involve pioneering efforts in new media. But let there be no mistake that among the many tasks, ceremonies and fires to put out, Finchem’s most important job during the next few years will be to develop a succession plan.
As New York Times columnist Walter Lippmann once wrote, “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.”
During his tenure, Finchem has not appointed a deputy commissioner – the way Beman picked Finchem as his first lieutenant – that would indicate a logical successor. Rather, Finchem has surrounded himself with several men capable of taking the helm. Charlie Zink and Ed Moorhouse are the two highest-ranking staff members. But sources say Zink, 57, will be regarded as too old for the job, and some colleagues say he doesn’t aspire to sit on the commissioner’s throne. It’s quite possible that when Finchem steps down, Zink will follow suit. Moorhouse, 52, considers himself the heir apparent, but his age may be his Achilles heel as well. Some think Moorhouse could emerge as a short-term, compromise candidate if Tour leadership makes preserving stability a top priority.
There are at least three other serious candidates in-house. Each would fall into what many call the ideal age for the job – somewhere in their late 40s to early 50s. Among them are Ty Votaw, the former LPGA commissioner whom Finchem hired in January as executive vice president for international affairs, and David Pillsbury, who joined the Tour in 2004 and is spearheading the redesign of the TPC at Sawgrass Stadium Course. It is widely believed that both came on board because of a promise implied, if not made, that they would be given a fair shot to win the job. The other staff person in the hunt is Rick George, who was named president of the Champions Tour in 2003 to breathe some life into what had become a stale product.
Who ultimately emerges as a successor likely will depend on the Tour’s needs at the time of Finchem’s departure. Will it prosper more from the guidance of an outsider, someone with more TV savvy or someone known and trusted by the players?
In today’s environment, does it make sense – or is it even feasible – for a player to be commissioner? It seems unlikely considering a player-turned-commissioner would need to meet the needs of so many constituents but feel pressured, or obligated, to appease his own brethren. Beman, who gave up his playing career to run the business of the game, however, says it could still be done (see Q&A, p70). Nearly all agree that experience
in the golf industry is an essential prerequisite. The board is unlikely to pick a successor who must undergo a steep learning curve. The ideal candidate also must maintain the difficult balancing act of maximizing commercial opportunities while preserving the sport’s integrity.
During Finchem’s tenure, golf’s governing bodies have banned together in the name of growing the game. Finchem has led this international coalition, and by default, the next commissioner also will have to deal with the politics of this global responsibility. The challenge is, what’s good for the Tour isn’t necessarily what’s good for the world game.
Looking back at the previous passing-of-the-torch may provide a glimpse of what may happen this time around.
Few remember that Finchem’s ascent to commissioner was not a fait accompli. The Tour’s board of directors looked inside and outside the organization for Beman’s replacement. Jack Frazee, a former president of Sprint and CEO of Centel Corp., was the other finalist. What carried the day was the Tour leadership’s confidence in Finchem because he had been deputy commissioner for three years. One thing to watch: As the board’s membership changes, so too might its preference for a successor.
One former high-ranking Tour executive says whoever takes the lead on the next TV deal will be the next commissioner. If that’s the case, the top internal candidate will be revealed roughly 18 months before Finchem’s reign is scheduled to end.
The next commissioner must have the courage to pitch his own ideas. Someone who can see beyond today and will be eager to tackle what remains undone. Who will that be?