NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem jokingly said he was relieved to see Tiger Woods still alive after reading such gloomy reports from his press conference in the Bahamas about his back issues. Finchem didn’t come away with a feeling that Woods was finished.
As for his own future? That’s equally vague.
Finchem’s latest four-year contract will expire in June, which would complete 23 years as the commissioner. But even with a succession plan in place – he named Jay Monahan the deputy commissioner in March – it didn’t sound as though Finchem was counting the days. Far from it.
”It’s a little ill-defined at the moment,” Finchem said. ”We have a great succession plan in progress. There are a couple of three major kind of projects I’d like to get pushed a little bit. The timing of what that means is still up in the air. The board is very comfortable about that.”
Finchem turns 69 next year, though the PGA Tour policy board recently extended the age limit of board members to 75. So that’s not an issue. Of greater interest are the projects to which he refers. Finchem didn’t indicate that he wants to close the book on them, saying later that he wanted ”to get at least a little momentum.”
Among the possible projects:
– The policy board at its last meeting approved a massive capital campaign project for improvements to The Players Championship and TPC Sawgrass. For all that Finchem has done in his two decades, The Players always has been among his highest priorities.
– Golf returns to the Olympics next year in Rio de Janeiro for the first time since 1904, though the work is not done. Golf will be part of the Olympic program in Rio and in Tokyo for 2020. But the big hurdle is securing its place for 2024 and beyond. The IOC will decide that in 2017, though it helps that most of the top stars plan to compete.
– Most intriguing is the possibility of a global tour. Finchem first mentioned it five years ago. He didn’t have a clear view of what form it would take other than to say that ”at some point in time, men’s professional golf will become integrated globally.” This constitutes a long-term project that he would like to ”get pushed a little bit.” It also requires plenty of cooperation with other tours, particularly in Europe and in Asia.
Two other possibilities:
– An early start on the next round of TV negotiations. The contracts are up in 2021, though it’s never too early to start.
– The contract for the title sponsorship of the FedEx Cup ends after 2017. By the same token, the tour has some title sponsorships that end after 2016, and the 2017 schedule could feature plenty of moving parts. But renewals and scheduling – and television – are issues that will continue to be part of PGA Tour business.
It’s unlikely that Finchem will step down at the end of June. The questions are how much longer he wants to stay and what role he might take after retirement.
”I love doing what I’m doing,” he said. ”From an organizational standpoint, there are times when it’s time to make transition and at the same time have a fresh course. I think that’s where we’re going to be headed. It’s a question of identifying that. Having said that, if the board – and I’m assuming Jay – want me to do some things post being in this job, I’d be available, assuming I could do some things that wouldn’t put me front and center.
”I don’t know what that means, either, at this point.”
MASTERS MOMENTS: With the worldwide schedule winding down, the Thailand Open should be the last chance for a few players to get into the top 50 by the end of the year and get a spot in the Masters. On the bubble this week are Matthew Fitzpatrick (No. 49), Lee Westwood (No. 56), K.T. Kim (No. 58), Shingo Katayama (No. 61) and Jamie Donaldson (No. 68), who would have to win.
Fitzpatrick would appear to be safe barring a bizarre sequence of events. That means 13 players will be added to Augusta National at the end of the year, which is consistent with the previous five years. And that would be 89 qualifiers (including the Latin America Amateur winner next month) going into 2016.
A year ago, 90 players were eligible at the end of the year, and the Masters had 98 players tee it up in April.
The Masters prefers a small field, and it has not had more than 100 competitors since 1966.
BUBBA’S RETIREMENT: Bubba Watson once said he would retire if he reached 10 victories, which he clarified Sunday after winning the Hero World Challenge with his ninth worldwide victory. It has to be 10 wins on the PGA Tour.
And then he threw in a caveat.
”If I ever become No. 1 in the world – ever, somehow – I’m walking away,” he said. ”I’m going to walk away on top. But let’s be honest. Nobody here is voting on that, right? Everybody thinks I’m not going to do that.”
LAHIRI’S TITLE DEFENSES: Anirban Lahiri of India said he would give up his European Tour membership if he feels he needs to spend more time on the PGA Tour.
For a player like Lahiri, however, meeting the European Tour membership criteria will never be easier.
A change in policy requires members to play five events that do not include the four majors and four World Golf Championships. It does include the EurAsia Cup (Jan. 15-17 in Malaysia) and the Olympics. Lahiri plans to play both. Throw in his title defense at the Hero Indian Open, and he would only have to play two events.
The tough decision for Lahiri is the Indian Open.
He already has decided not to defend his title in the Maybank Malaysian Open. However, the Indian Open is the same week as the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and a week before the Dell Match Play in Texas.
”It’s tending toward likely for the Indian Open,” Lahiri said. ”It’s a very difficult situation to be in. Personally speaking, it’s been an emotional high for me to win the Indian Open this year. I would like nothing more than to try to defend.”
And therein is another catch. The European policy states that one of those five events must include a tournament in a player’s home country, if available. Otherwise, the minimum requirement goes up to seven regular tournaments.
Meanwhile, Lahiri will be looking for a home in Florida. He is leaning toward the West Palm Beach area or Orlando, where good friends Daniel Chopra and Arjun Atwal live.
DIVOTS: Former USGA president Judy Bell and Canadian amateur Marlene Stewart Streit have accepted invitations to be honorary members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. … The year didn’t end without a big win for Stacy Lewis. According to Golfweek magazine, Lewis got engaged to Houston golf coach Gerrod Chadwell, who proposed to her over Thanksgiving. … Colorado Golf Club will host the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 2019. It last held the Solheim Cup in 2013. … The Country Club of Charleston was given its biggest event yet when the USGA said it would host the U.S. Women’s Open in 2019.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Billy Horschel is the only American who will have to rely on top 50 in the world at the end of the year to qualify for the Masters.
FINAL WORD: ”We all have something out here that someone else wants.” – Jimmy Walker.
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