Finchem's extension allows for orderly transition

Tim Finchem

HONOLULU - When the PGA Tour announced Wednesday that commissioner Tim Finchem’s contract was being extended by four years, the decision not only reinforced a commitment to stability but it started the clock ticking on identifying his successor.

Finchem, 64, is in his 17th year as commissioner and 25th with the Tour. If he serves out the contract, which expires June 1, 2016, Finchem, only the third commissioner since the touring pros split from the PGA of America in 1969, would be the Tour's longest-serving chief. Deane Beman steered the Tour from 1974 to '94, after the first commissioner, the late Joe Dey (1969-74).

Finchem also is assured a legacy of taking the Tour into the 21st century. During his tenure, the Tour expanded via the biennial Presidents Cup matches and the World Golf Championships and launched a season-ending playoff series. Purses mushroomed from $56.4 million in 1994 to $279.7 million in 2011, and the Tour recently signed an unprecedented nine-year deal with NBC Sports and CBS Sports.

”When we got done with television, the more I thought about the runway for 10 years, I figured we could really do some good stuff long-term planning-wise,” Finchem said. “I'm as optimistic as I have ever been in my tenure.”

With a rumored FedEx sponsorship renewal of the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs coming in the next 10 days and progress on a new umbrella sponsorship for the Nationwide Tour, two of the biggest challenges appear to be almost behind Finchem. Now, he will have a chance to help smooth the transition for the next commissioner.

“My last two terms on the (Tour Policy) Board, we have been talking about it,” Davis Love III, a current board member, said of Finchem's inevitable successor. “We need to be grooming the successor, especially the next two years. It's going to be real important to have that on the table.”

When Beman submitted his resignation on Feb. 28, 1994, Finchem was the Tour's deputy commissioner and chief operating officer. He clearly was a potential successor, but the board nonetheless formed a search committee and looked within and beyond the organization.

It wasn't until May 9 that the board unanimously elected Finchem as the Tour's third commissioner.

During those intervening months, such powerful leaders as Peter Ueberroth, the former Major League Baseball commissioner, and Dick Ferris, the former chief of United Airlines, were mentioned as candidates before ultimately declining consideration.

Ueberroth, in a nod to the business acumen with which he steered the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, said in withdrawing from consideration for the Tour's job: “It is my view that the next commissioner should be an internal choice, as (professional) basketball and football have successfully done with the selection of David Stern (NBA) and Paul Tagliabue (NFL), both of whom took over in a seamless effort to the betterment of their respective sports.”

More than 40 applications were submitted, Beman later revealed in his 2011 biography "Golf's Driving Force" by Adam Schupak, but only one outsider -- Jack Frazee, a former president of Sprint and CEO of Centel -- was considered.

Ultimately, Finchem prevailed.

Four years from now, with Finchem nearing 70 as his contract ends, the Tour's board will not be caught off-guard like it was when Beman resigned. There will be plenty of time between now and then for an orderly transition.

“Ronald Reagan got elected president when he was 70 and served two terms,” Finchem said. “But I think that the likelihood is, this will probably be it for me. I mean, there are other things I want to do, also, and I think it has to do with the evolvement of the organization, too.”

Finchem talked openly about how the process would work: creating a transition plan, bringing staff members along who can assume leadership roles and then, when the time comes, the board either makes a selection internally or opens it up to compare internal candidates with outsiders.

“That's the decision they have to make in the context of where they are at the time,” Finchem said of the board. “Our job is to bring people along who have good leadership skills, give them good, broad experience in different aspects of our organization and also put them in a position where they can demonstrate to the board the caliber of management skills they have. And the board makes that decision. That's not my decision.”

So the big question is, are there people inside the PGA Tour that can take over as commissioner? Finchem answered with an unqualified “Yes, a number of them, no question.”

So the clock is ticking, with everyone at the PGA Tour on notice that the Finchem era likely will run four more years. At the same time, the leaders within the organization will have the spotlight shined upon them. The future of the PGA Tour will be taking shape.

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