Special Features

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has made a lot of golfers very, very rich — and a few very, very angry

Photo: Gerry Gropp/SI

Far from Ponte Vedra Beach, a Presidents Cup press conference in San Francisco was one part of a regular 12‑hour Finchem day.

Wednesday, April 23, was a fairly typical day in the life of Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner.

He awakened at his house in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., at 4:45 a.m. and immediately hit the gym for a punishing workout. By 6:45 he had arrived at Tour headquarters, bursting through the doors like an Old West sheriff entering a saloon, a style of entrance that Finchem's colleagues became accustomed to long ago.

"He often comes to work straight from the gym, and you can feel how charged up he is to take on the day," says Charlie Zink, the Tour's co-chief operating officer. "His energy level sets a tone for everyone here."

He spent an hour clearing his desk; then Finchem was wheels-up in the Tour's private jet, bound for Dallas, site of the EDS Byron Nelson Championship.

Finchem averages 170 days a year on the road, attending to a dizzying number of responsibilities. Within his purview is not only the PGA Tour but also the Champions and Nationwide tours. That means he has to manage about 600 players along with more than 2,200 Tour employees, 100 or so corporate sponsors, a like number of host venues and a multitude of television networks and other media outlets.

Upon arriving at the tournament site, Finchem made a social call to Nelson's widow, Peggy; sat for an interview with the Morning News; then huddled with the leadership of the Salesmanship Club, the nonprofit that runs the tournament.

Finchem is a details wonk, and there is nothing he enjoys more than kicking around with his tournament people little ways to improve what he refers to as "the product."

Says Finchem, "Connecting with people, getting things done — that's what makes the travel worthwhile."

After the Salesmanship meeting Finchem presided over a ceremony commemorating the revamped host course, the TPC Four Seasons Resort. Finchem has been speaking in front of crowds going back to his days as a high school debate champion, but his body language betrays his lack of enthusiasm for the pomp and circumstance that comes with his job. Even when a crowd has gathered specifically for him, as in Dallas, he moves through it with his eyes down and shoulders hunched slightly forward, as if hoping not to be noticed.

After the ceremony Finchem had a private sit-down with Ron Rittenmeyer, CEO of the Nelson's title sponsor, EDS, and then they held a joint press conference announcing that the sponsorship deal with the tournament had been extended through 2014. It was a nice piece of news in a brutal business environment, but Finchem did not exactly exude glee.

He never looks more stiff than during his press-conference appearances, at which he hides in plain sight behind lawyerly circumlocutions that are almost impossible to follow without a thesaurus and a compass. At this presser he drew two laughs, which is two more than usual.

Upon fleeing the media center Finchem found a quiet spot where he could make a round of phone calls back to Tour headquarters to announce a series of staff changes. He has four years left on a contract extension that will take him to his 65th birthday, and over the last couple of years reorganizing the Tour's executive ranks has been a priority.

The institution may not be any leaner — the 2008 media guide lists no fewer than 40 people carrying the title of president or vice president — but the Tour has become more agile and responsive, particularly in the areas of communications and new media. Those who have been swept aside in the corporate housecleaning get collegial going-away parties and often personal help from the commissioner in finding another job, but such niceties can't entirely disguise how unsentimental Finchem is about embracing change.

"An organization needs to be constantly refreshed," he says.

The commissioner's time in Dallas ended with a two-hour meeting with the player advisory council, the 16-man body that makes policy recommendations to the Tour's board of directors, which theoretically governs the Tour.

The board is made up of four players, four titans of the business world and an officer of the PGA of America.

Finchem does not have a vote, but he does have the dominant voice at every meeting, and he has spent his 14 years as commissioner successfully bending the board to his will.

"He's a master at building a consensus, especially when it doesn't appear a consensus exists," says Joe Ogilvie, one of the players on the board. "Watching him in action, it's pretty damn impressive. You can tell he was a debater and a lawyer the way he makes his arguments."

When the meeting adjourned Finchem hopped back in his plane, landing in Florida around 7:45 p.m, 12 hours after he left. If he was drained from a nonstop day, it didn't show.

"I'm already looking forward to getting to the office tomorrow to follow up on some of the things that were discussed today," he said.

Finchem's relentlessness may be the defining trait of his epoch as commissioner. He has been an inexorable agent of change during an era of phenomenal growth, and in his never-ending quest to showcase the Tour's players, he has played midwife to the Presidents Cup, the World Golf Championships and the FedEx Cup. Thanks to Finchem's bare-knuckled negotiating of TV contracts, the Tour's purses have mushroomed from $56.4 million in 1994 to more than $270 million last year, when the 99th man on the money list banked more than a million bucks.

Further, in an era of broken-down football players limping to Capitol Hill to testify about how their game left them disfigured and destitute, the Tour's retirement plan is the envy of professional sports, with numerous players projected to realize eight- and even nine-figure nest eggs.

Finchem is also a marketing maven who has rebranded the Tour as a benevolent instrument of charity that since '93 has dispersed more than $980 million across the nation to worthy causes.

Yet even as Tour players have become fabulously wealthy under Finchem, there exists an undercurrent of discontent with his leadership.

This bad buzz got a high-profile airing last fall when Phil Mickelson called out Finchem on national TV in the moments after a heady win at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Mickelson was peeved by some of the details in the execution of the inaugural FedEx Cup, and when he skipped the third of the so-called playoff events it was widely interpreted as a slap at Finchem.

The incident followed the massive public-relations hit that came when Tiger Woods did not bother to show up for the first playoff event.

Apparently, the hard feelings linger. Asked to comment about his relationship with the commissioner, Mickelson said, "I'm not going to touch that one. I promised my wife I wouldn't start any controversies this year."

The spat with Mickelson — and Woods's failure to play good soldier — threw into sharp relief Finchem's complicated relationships with the game's superstars.

His decade-and-a-half cold war with Greg Norman has barely thawed, even though Finchem named Norman as captain of the International team for the 2009 Presidents Cup.

One of Norman's primary beefs has been what he considers an institutional unwillingness to share financial information with the players, and Norman continues to toy with a longstanding idea of lawyering up to get the Tour to open its books.

"The lack of transparency is baffling," Norman said in a recent interview. "I'll never understand the way the Tour conducts its business. Finchem forgets that he works for the players, not the other way around."

Finchem's relations with the Tour rank and file couldn't have been helped when earlier this year his compensation was made public. For 2006, the most recent year on record, the commissioner earned $5.2 million, which would have placed him third on that year's money list.

The funny thing about Finchem is that he is always in the news but he has somehow remained a stranger, even to those working alongside him. Ogilvie counts the commissioner as a friend and receives an annual Christmas present, which is traditionally some type of fancy kitchen gadget, as Finchem is both an epicure and an oenophile.

"Tim, believe it or not, has a personality," Ogilvie says with a knowing laugh. But, he adds, "There is definitely an elusive quality about him, probably because he is always being pulled in so many different directions by so many different constituencies. As much time as I've spent in conversation with him I can't say I really know him. I'm not sure any of us know the real Tim Finchem."

In golf 's time line 1960 is a watershed year, the one in which Arnold Palmer starred in the first color telecast from the Masters and then made his maiden voyage to the British Open, chasing the Grand Slam.

Finchem has always been an unabashed Palmer fan, but 1960 was the year he fell under the spell of another American icon, John F. Kennedy.

Finchem's grandfather Timothy Kelly was a well-connected pol outside of Chicago, and family dinners were always flavored with robust political debate. When Finchem was 13 his mother, Margaret — "an Irish Catholic saint," he says — instructed him to sit in front of the TV to monitor the Democratic national convention that begot Camelot. Finchem was spellbound by Kennedy's charisma and idealism.

"That set the course of my life for about the next 20 years," he says.

Growing up, Finchem, the second of six children, apsired to be one of the best and the brightest, devouring books on military history with a special emphasis on the Civil War, Russian revolution, World War II and — Norman would love this — Napoleon. He got his intellectual curiosity from his mother; old school discipline was instilled by his father, Harold, a master gunnery sergeant who spent 30 years in the Marine Corps.

"I've never thought of my father as a disciplinarian," says Finchem, "but one thing that's always stuck in my mind was the morning I was heading out to school and he pointed out that my shoes weren't shined. I said, 'Ah, Dad, nobody will know.' All he said was, 'But you will.' After that I shined my shoes every morning."

The family home in Virginia Beach had no air conditioning and only three bedrooms — three sisters in one, three brothers in the other. If Finchem wanted to have any fun he had to finance it himself, so beginning at age 11 he took on various jobs to pay for golf, which he had come to love through spirited matches with his father.

His home away from home was the golf course at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, which he could play all day for about a dollar. In the summers, when he wasn't working, Finchem and his buddies would often squeeze in 54 holes a day.

Finchem played on the golf team as a sophomore at Princess Anne High. For his nine-hole matches he considered 36 a good score, and a few times he went as low as 34. But, he says, "If I was going to go to college I had to have a scholarship. By my sophomore year it was evident golf was not going to be the path."

As a junior he gave up competitive golf in favor of the debate team. The Cavaliers won the state championship, and Finchem was the first-place speaker, a double-dip he repeated as a senior. That earned him a full ride to the University of Richmond to compete in its powerhouse debate program.

After graduating in 1969 with a political science degree, Finchem matriculated at the University of Virginia Law School, which is home to the prestigious Lyle Moot Court, a cutthroat two-year elimination competition. Finchem and his partner, Virgil Goode, reached the finals, which were judged by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

"I know I was intimidated, but Tim seemed very much at ease," says Goode, now in his sixth term representing Virginia's fifth congressional district. "He and Marshall went round and round."

While in law school Finchem began indulging his passion for politics by doing campaign work, and he continued the moonlighting even after entering private practice. In 1977, having just turned 30, he decided to run for prosecuting attorney in Virginia Beach (the equivalent of district attorney). His idealism was no match for the messy realities of politics on the ground. In the final days of his campaign versus an archconservative incumbent, the local paper ran a frontpage story about Finchem's propensity for speeding tickets.

"I had five or six speeding tickets over a period of three years, mostly for going 10 miles over the speed limit," Finchem says, plaintively. "None of them were for reckless driving or DUI. The whole thing was overblown."

"What he's forgetting to mention," says Tim Smith, a close friend dating back to their undergrad days, "is that his license had been suspended for 60 days. He was solidly up in the campaign with 10 days to go, then his opponent rolled out this radio ad. I'll never forget it: 'Tim Finchem wants to be the top law enforcement officer in Virginia Beach. We have only one question: Who is going to drive him to work?' It's hilarious now, but at the time it torpedoed his political career."

Losing the election, Finchem admits, "is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. Otherwise I might still be in Virginia Beach prosecuting cases."

Instead, in 1978 he joined the Carter Administration as deputy adviser to the President in the office of economic affairs. Washington was a fresh start in other ways, as Finchem's first marriage had recently ended. On his fourth day on the job he volunteered to chair a committee meeting on inflation. He was 31, lording over the proceedings in the White House's glorious Roosevelt Room.

"I called my mother right after that meeting," he says. "I told her, 'I don't believe I'm doing this.' I was pretty proud of myself. She, of course, was pretty proud too."

In the fall of 1979 Carter's reelection campaign was suffering from a serious fund-raising shortfall and a spirited challenge from Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy. To reinvigorate the reelection effort the President made Finchem the national staff director, giving him broad powers to shake up the campaign's machinery.

"Tim saved that campaign," says Smith, who served as general counsel for the reelection bid.

The next year Finchem attended the Democratic convention two decades after having been inspired by JFK's performance there, and this time he took his mother, the person who had sparked his political awakening.

"Working in Washington, trying to make a difference, that was a very meaningful time for me, a period of personal growth," says Finchem. "Not that it ever left me, but it all came back to me [in February] when my mom died. The last time I saw her, she said, 'I want you to take me to the convention this summer.' I mean, she's had two strokes, she's in a wheelchair, she's failing. But she says, 'You know, you haven't taken me since 1980.' No sooner had she said that then she dozed off in her chair, so I got her settled in her bed. I kissed her on the cheek and then started walking to the door. As I'm leaving I hear her voice, 'Don't forget the convention.' I look back, and she's asleep again. Those were the last words I ever heard from her."

After Carter lost the 1980 election Finchem founded the blandly named National Strategies and Marketing Group, a consulting firm that helped corporations break into new markets. Finchem couldn't completely leave politics behind.

In 1984 he served as national finance director for Walter Mondale during the presidential primaries, and then for the general election he was bumped up to vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

It was also in '84 that the PGA Tour, then under longtime commissioner Deane Beman, became a client.

In '86 the Tour asked Finchem to help organize a new Senior tour event, the Chrysler Cup. One of the first meetings was attended by a woman named Holly Bachand, who was working for Arnold Palmer's event management firm.

"I was immediately smitten," Finchem says. "After the meeting I told my staff I'd handle this one myself."

It took weeks of Finchem's pestering before Bachand would consent to a date.

"I was there when she finally said yes," says Smith. "Tim was on a pay phone at Congressional Country Club. He hung up and did what can only be described as an Irish jig. I distinctly remember him clicking his heels together."

Finchem and Bachand were married six months later, with Palmer attending the wedding reception.

That same year Finchem was first asked by the Tour to come in-house. He demurred, but another offer came the following year. By then Holly was pregnant, and the Finchems decided that Ponte Vedra Beach would be a nice place to raise a family. Finchem sold his share of his company and became the Tour's vice president of business affairs.

"He was impactful from the very beginning," says the Tour's Zink. "Within a year it was pretty clear who would be the next commissioner."

Beman's departure was hastened by his disastrous attempt to ban the square grooves in Ping irons. One of Finchem's tasks was to negotiate a settlement for the ensuing lawsuit, which ultimately cost the Tour millions. That could have been an early lesson on the dangers of hubris, but upon becoming commissioner, on June 1, 1994, Finchem immediately set about reshaping the golf landscape.

Says Zink, "The Presidents Cup had been discussed before conceptually, but the execution, as far as getting it done, that was all Tim."

The inaugural Presidents Cup was played in September 1994, after 3 1/2 months of feverish preparation, and even the fiercest Finchem detractor has to concede that the competition has been a home run.

Less than two years after that first Presidents Cup, Tiger Woods turned pro, forever changing golf and the Tour.

Woods has certainly made Finchem's job easier, but he has also muddled the commissioner's legacy. Tom Pernice, the outspoken 17-year veteran, says flatly, "Tim Finchem is going to go down as one of the greatest commissioners in sports history, and he owes it all to Tiger Woods."

That's underrating what a ruthlessly effective behind-the-scenes warrior Finchem can be. He has repeatedly put down challenges to his authority with extreme prejudice. Only a couple of months into Finchem's tenure as commissioner, Norman floated the idea of a new world tour to be underwritten by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

The big-money events would have poached the Tour's top players and badly devalued its schedule. In late '94 Finchem arranged an audience with Norman and the other elite players gathered at the Shark Shootout.

For this meeting the commissioner brought along a powerful wingman in Palmer.

"Their spin was that it was my deal, about me and for me," Norman said in a 2004 interview with Golf Digest. "I was tarnished tremendously, being branded as someone who was trying to hurt the game of golf."

Norman's idea died, at least for a few years. It was brought back to life by Finchem, of all people. In 1999 Finchem introduced the World Golf Championships, initially four annual tournaments to be played around the world. These global events were the cornerstones of a revamped schedule that came with the blockbuster four-year, $1 billion TV deal Finchem negotiated in the heady months after Woods's epic victory at the 1997 Masters.

In the early years the WGCs visited Spain, Argentina, Australia, Ireland and Japan, but over the last few seasons the events have become increasingly tethered to the U.S., especially after the vagabond World Cup was stripped of its WGC status in 2006.

The three remaining tournaments are for the foreseeable future anchored at unimaginative venues in such cosmopolitan destinations as Akron and Tucson. The WGC's Americanization has forced top international players to consolidate their schedules in the U.S., badly hurting their home tours.

"Finchem is either blind to it, or he simply doesn't care what kind of effect he has on the rest of the world," Norman tells SI. "The PGA Tour is such a powerhouse it has a global responsibility to the game, whether he likes it or not."

Finchem is candid that television is the primary reason the WGCs no longer have a global profile, as domestic ratings have tumbled whenever the tournaments were played overseas.

"We still export the game, just by TV," says Finchem. "That said, we would like to get back to where the tournaments move around. It simply wasn't available to us this time around because of the structure of our television agreements."

A juicy postscript to the world tour machinations came at Norman's Hall of Fame induction in 2001. From the dais Finchem credited his old adversary with the original concept of a global golf tour. It was a classy move by the commissioner but still left Norman seething.

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing," Norman said back in '04. "Cut a guy's legs off, then give him a pair of shoes. Never, ever will I forgive Tim Finchem, and he can induct me into a Hall of Fame once a week."

Finchem fought off another challenge in 1998, when three veteran players — Mark Brooks, Danny Edwards and Larry Rinker — founded the Tour Players Association, conceived as a union of sorts to give the players more of a voice in Tour operations.

The TPA was born out of frustration when its founders were stonewalled in an attempt to get the Tour to release salary information on its top executives. (The numbers are now released annually.) Finchem knew the players generally vote their pocketbooks, and with the WGCs already guaranteeing fat paychecks to the top players, Finchem was able to appease the Tour's middle class by pouring bonus money into the retirement plan and allowing players to fully vest after five years on Tour, a standard that replaced the old, onerous requirement of having to make 150 cuts, which could take a decade or more. With the players increasingly fat and happy the TPA could never gain any traction and the rebellion quietly fizzled.

In the spring of '99 Finchem sought out Rinker, who as the TPA's secretary had been an outspoken critic of the commissioner. Shaking Rinker's hand, Finchem channeled the Corleone family mantra, saying, "Larry, it's just business."

Finchem has even been able to co-opt the most powerful man in golf.

In late 2000, as Woods was putting the finishing touches on the greatest season in golf history, he took time out to blast the commissioner in the press over a series of simmering grievances, including his desire to wrest more control from the Tour over how his image and likeness were to be used.

Woods's criticism of Finchem took on a personal tone when he was quoted as saying, "The only time he talks to me is when he wants me to do something for him. It's not like he ever asks me how I'm doing."

A few weeks later a chastened Finchem met with Woods and said and did all the right things.

"My relationship with Tim has definitely improved because of it," Woods later said. "He was very candid, very open. I appreciated that. There was a lot of fence-mending."

Finchem helped secure the uneasy peace in 2002 when the Tiger Woods Foundation was made the beneficiary of the newly created Deutsche Bank Championship. Last year he went one step farther, giving Woods his own tournament, the AT&T National, for which Woods's foundation is also the charitable beneficiary.

The AT&T National filled a hole in the schedule created by the demise of the International, which for 21 years was widely regarded as one of the best-run tournaments on Tour. In its final years the International had struggled to lock up long-term corporate sponsorship. The tournament's patriarch, Jack Vickers, a wily former oil baron, claimed to be working toward a blockbuster deal to save the tournament, but he couldn't complete it in time.

On Feb. 8, 2007, Finchem and his top lieutenants flew to Denver for a tense press conference announcing that the International was kaput, effective immediately.

Less than three weeks later the Tour was trumpeting the creation of the AT&T National, at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.

Conspiracy theorists have long puzzled over how the death of a tournament that couldn't attract Woods so quickly led to the birth of another event that trades so heavily on his star power.

Reached for comment last month, Vickers could not hide his lingering dismay.

"They were less than straightforward with me," he said of Finchem and the rest of the Tour brass. "They were doing things behind my back that I was not aware of. If that's the way they want to do business, fine, but it's not how I like to be treated."

Says Finchem, "We did everything we could to make it work with the International. We extended our deadlines well past what we should have in trying to get a deal done, and as a result we needed to put a contingency plan in place. There had been internal discussions about potential markets and potential sponsors, but there was not any contact with any of the parties until after the International press conference."

Note that Finchem did not express any remorse, and why should he? After all, who means more to the Tour — Woods or Vickers?

Even as Finchem has cultivated the reputation of boardroom assassin, there are a few colleagues who have seen his softer side.

"He is always accessible to his family," says Ed Moorhouse, the Tour's co-chief operating officer.

Finchem is a doting dad to three teenaged daughters, and he seems particularly pleased that in his own house he has been able to replicate the spirited debate that characterized the family he grew up in.

"Dinners in our house are quite noisy, which is fun," he says. "There's a lot of needling. The great thing about my girls is that they have a little cynicism about the world, which I think is very healthy. Holly raised them well while I was away."

The guilt implicit in that last sentence is what makes Finchem maniacal about getting home from business trips at the earliest possible instant. When he zips around the country in the Tour's private jet he often ferries other staffers, though sometimes only in one direction. Says a colleague who has flown with Finchem, "If you're traveling with the commissioner you better have your bags with you and be ready to go — he'll leave your ass behind in a heartbeat."

Case in point: On Valentine's Day morning Finchem found himself in the gilded ballroom of San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel for a press conference announcing that after years of complicated negotiations the 2009 Presidents Cup would be played at Harding Park.

When all the speechmaking was over, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom lingered to chat. Finchem, meanwhile, was hightailing it out of the hotel into a waiting car, which took him straight to the tarmac. Against all odds he made it back to Ponte Vedra Beach in time for dinner with his wife, though he didn't have time to cook it himself, as he has done in the past.

Finchem's son from his first marriage, Spencer, is a professional chef, and his old man long ago developed a taste for being in the kitchen.

Finchem has cultivated a friendship with Charlie and Nan Niyomkul, the Atlanta restaurateurs who prepared the Masters champions dinner when their friend Vijay Singh played host in 2001. During the Tour's two annual stops in Atlanta, "we can't keep him out of the kitchen," says Charlie. "He's very intense, very serious, watching everything Nan does." (When it's time to drink, not eat, Finchem is a wine connoisseur who Moorhouse says "likes the good stuff," with a particular weakness for Bordeaux.)

"What I like about cooking," Finchem says, "is that I have to concentrate on what I'm doing and it takes my mind off everything else. I look for that sense of escape in all my hobbies."

His family often vacations at their getaway in Colorado's Eagle Valley, though, true to his populist roots, Finchem insists on saying that the cabin is "28 miles down valley from Vail, in the cheap seats." Depending on the season he will fly-fish or ski.

But Finchem is often alone in line when the lifts start operating because, he laments, his daughters "are the kind of people who like to ski from 10 to 2, with a long break for lunch. Here's my philosophy on skiing," he adds, breaking into a smile because he knows that most people manage to enjoy the pastime without articulating a well-thought-out philosophy. "I only get a few days a year to do it, so maximizing the number of runs per day has to be part of the objective."

He brings the same focus to his golf game, grinding through lessons every other week at the PGA Tour Golf Academy at TPC Sawgrass. Finchem currently carries a 5.3 index but is capable of going pretty low.

On a trip to Scotland with a group of Tour colleagues he shot 69 at Turnberry's famed Ailsa course, site of three British Opens. He has also earned a permanent place in Sawgrass lore thanks to his heroics at a long-ago club championship.

It was a four-man team event, and Finchem and his partners were locked in a duel with a quartet of jabronis from New Jersey who were playing as out-of-town members and getting lots of shots thanks to their spurious handicaps.

These yahoos were wearing matching outfits, and their obnoxious wives were noisily following the group with video cameras in hand. Standing in the fairway of the Stadium course's exacting par-4 18th hole, Finchem watched incredulously as his antagonists made a net birdie to go up by a stroke, which begot a lusty celebration.

From 200 yards out the commissioner proceeded to rip a majestic three-iron that covered the flag. He buried the 15- foot putt for a net eagle to secure his team's immensely satisfying victory.

"I remember that shot quite clearly," he says. "I remember that putt."

Finchem's palpable passion for golf led him in 1997 to spearhead the creation of the First Tee. The First Tee has a charter to make golf more accessible to the masses, especially those in communities that traditionally have had little entree to the game.

There are now more than 200 chapters, which have served an estimated 2.2 million kids, and Finchem feels a connection with those who are using golf to better themselves.

"My family didn't have any money," he says, "but I had access to inexpensive golf, and the game changed my life. I still carry with me the values I learned from golf."

Finchem is forever looking for ways to give back to a game that has given him so much, such as his recent high-profile push to make golf an Olympic sport again after a century's absence.

Should it come to pass, the Olympics would wreak havoc with the Tour's schedule, but Finchem sees it as one of the best ways to expand the game globally, which makes it the right thing to do. On the other hand, 2016 is the target date, by which time the logistics will be another commissioner's problem.

Or will they?

"Actually, my plan is to die in office at the age of 82," Finchem says with a hearty laugh.

In fact the commissioner says he has no time line in mind for the end of his tenure and that "it would be a mistake to assume" he will step down in four years when his contract expires.

Then again, "there are a lot of things I want to do with my life," he says, "and there's not time for many of them with this job."

It's rare for Finchem to allow for such reflection, but last Wednesday, April 23, presented the perfect opportunity: He had just returned from his long day in Dallas and was whizzing through the darkened streets of Ponte Vedra Beach, on the way home. His family was waiting for him to arrive to share a late dinner.

Asked about the L word — legacy — Finchem said, "I'd like to be thought of as a key player on a team, because that's really what this job is. I would like to be remembered as a guy who got up every day and brought it as hard as he could. I don't need anything beyond that."

Those are modest aspirations coming from a man with so many big ideas. Perhaps Finchem had more to say on the subject, but there wasn't time. He was eager to step into his home, before his dinner got cold.

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