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

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

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

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.