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May 9, 2007
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA
JAMES CRAMER: Good afternoon, everyone. Again, I'd like to welcome you to the 2007 PLAYERS Championship. We're joined this afternoon by PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem to talk a little bit about the state of the tournament, take your questions. We'd also like to make note that course superintendent Fred Klauk is here with us this afternoon and will be available following the press conference if anybody has any questions about the golf course and how it's going to play over the four rounds of competition.
With that, I'd like to turn it over to Commissioner Finchem.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Thank you, James. I'll make a couple of brief comments and try to answer a few questions.
Welcome to sunny, dry, warm Florida (laughter). Welcome to the -- the idea was to go to a drier climate, and I guess they named the storm today Andrea, so Andrea will be with us for a few more hours at least. The good news is we did make the decision to move ahead with the reinfrastructure of the golf course to hopefully put it in the condition where we can deal with more moisture, and as I said to Fred in an earlier meeting, that concept will now get some testing in the next 48 hours (laughter).
You know, I think we've talked a lot -- you all have been here for a few days. We've talked a lot earlier in the week about the pattern over the years has been to try to make THE PLAYERS as good as we could make it. That's our only objective.
This year we have sort of a collective number of things that came together, a long-term planning process to rebuild the infrastructure of the course and the surrounding areas. I guess we started talking about that in 2000, and we began the execution of that in '05 and completed it in '06.
As that got developed, we recognized that we -- if we were going to refurbish the golf course, we needed to fix the clubhouse. We tried a couple of renditions to renovate it. We just couldn't get excited about those renditions back in '01, '02, '03, and we went to a plan to totally rebuild it. The direction was to make it as good as we could for the tournament week, and then we felt like if we did that, it would be a facility that really helped elevate the overall resort experience the other 51 weeks of the year, and we think that's the way it came out. We're really pleased with that.
On-site we're getting a great reaction to our new leaderboards around the property. These will be used on the PGA TOUR going forward, and I think they do a nice job of helping us communicate to the fans.
We're particularly pleased with the way the television package has come together, consistent graphics through the course of the week, limited commercials, all HD television. I think it's a totally unique and different experience now at this tournament for the fans to be able to enjoy this field on this golf course with that kind of telecast package, and that may be the biggest of all changes.
And then of course the date change, where we have later air times because of later daylight, and we're pleased about that, as well.
We have other things on our list that we didn't get to this year. I don't think a golf tournament that wants to improve ever changes working at doing that. There are always things to be done. We're just pleased that some of the building blocks that had been missing the last few years are now in place and it can allow us to concentrate on some of the detailed things going forward.
We had a great reception with some of you on Monday night, enjoyed getting to visit a little bit, and we like the way the week is playing out thus far. We're particularly looking forward to recognizing Deane Beman at 4:00, and if there was one disappointment about even this much moisture is that it's pushed us inside for that ceremony, and we specifically designed some of the area in the back of the clubhouse to accommodate this ceremony and be a place that we would recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the PGA TOUR over the years, and now we'll be doing it in inside. So that's a disappointment.
Other than that, it seems to be a great week. The players really like the way the golf course is playing. The ones I've talked to, and I've talked to a fair number.
I'll be happy to try to answer your questions.
Q. You said there's a couple of other things on your list that you weren't able to get to. What are those things and what's your time frame on getting to them?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, as you know, we've moved some things out of this week. We moved the player meeting out of this week because we felt like it was a good thing to have it here but we didn't want the distraction of it being here. And the next thing we're going to move out of this week is this press conference because I don't want to answer any more questions like that (laughter).
It's just a lot of little things. We couldn't really -- we really didn't have time to get to some of the things we want to do on the staging around the golf course. We did rebuild the mounds, which was a good step. And we'll analyze carefully the new moving patterns of fans. But some of the staging, the look of the staging, those things we're really going to address carefully this next year.
We will learn some things about fan movement in and around the new areas around the clubhouse, and we've already seen some congested areas early in the week and will be addressing those.
There are some things that historically have been close in that are -- some of us think perhaps are a bit of a distraction, we may move further away from the court area here in terms of enhancement areas. There's some things we'll do on the practice area. We just went ahead and made some decisions on that.
On the golf course, we were really conservative in terms of the golf course. We felt like the golf course has played well. The fans like it. We made some tweaks, but we didn't -- we were conservative in those tweaks.
We have another list of things that we may start to incorporate over the next three or four years, and we'll do that on an annual basis. So it's a work in progress, but we feel like we made a lot of progress this last year.
Q. Was Pete Dye involved in the revisions, and to what extent if you would?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Yes, and very. I don't know if you heard this story, but there was a debate, if you will, about the steps we should take with the organic layer that had built up on the golf course over a number of years. Pete called me on a Friday last summer, early last summer, and he said, I need to talk to you. It's very important. I need 30 minutes; when can you do it? So I started responding, and he said, well, I'll be there Sunday afternoon. Can we do it at 4:00 o'clock in your office? I said, yeah, that will be fine. So I'm in my office and I'm waiting for him, and he has three styrofoam cups, and he comes over to my desk and he takes each cup and he dumps it out on the desk, all this dirt, organic material. He had taken samples from three different places on the golf course, and he said, I'm sorry, it's the only way I can really get, so to speak, your head into this issue.
So 15 minutes later he finished, and he said, I'll clean this up. I said, I want you to leave it right there so people can see it tomorrow.
He was very involved in -- he was very involved in the greens in particular because bringing the greens back to within an eighth of an inch of historically -- or back to their exact topographical dimensions was in and of itself a challenge.
But there were some little things that we were doing with four or five greens, we wanted a couple more pin placements, we really wanted to make a different green at 12, but we wanted a pin placement just to the left of the front bunker at 17 and more room for a pin placement in the front of 3, et cetera.
Over the years the top-dressing had changed the contours of the greens and they related to the -- for example, at 17, the bulkheading in the back, the green had actually gotten up higher so the sloping was a little off. He really wanted to work on that and make sure it came out the way we wanted it to, and he spent a lot of time here last summer.
We lowered a number of green side bunkers to make them more competitive and more challenging. He was very involved in that level of detail.
He also has his pet projects that at golf courses he should do this and do that, so he wanted to be here to debate those. But he had a good team. He worked closely with Steve Wenzloff, Fred Klauk was very involved in managing the execution, and I just thought the process went very well.
We had a wide range of player input. We asked many of you your opinions. We asked television commentators their opinions. We had all kinds of input. We just kept boiling it down, and I think the product speaks for itself.
Q. Just curious, we all see the forecast coming and there's a chance of a little bit of rain almost every day, but at any point today did you sit back and ask yourself when you were going to get some luck in this regard as far as weather goes, or do you just chalk it up to this is the one thing you can't control?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: It's actually funny because we never said it doesn't rain in May, we just said the patterns are different, and it's not going to rain as much, and when it rains you don't usually get a system. You usually get buildup and maybe a thunderstorm. But the fact that we have had -- you all just got here. We've been smelling these fires around here for a month. It has really not rained.
I had somebody ask me a couple hours ago whether we had ever had a chance to test out the subvac system on the greens, and we opened the golf course in December, so I think we've had over an inch once since we started construction 14 months ago. We had a half an inch on Sunday. There just hadn't been any rain. So my assumption was it would definitely rain this week (laughter). It hasn't rained in a year, it might as well rain this week.
I also believe since we're going late on Sunday, until 7:00 o'clock, we haven't had a playoff since '88. I'll bet you we have a playoff Sunday night (laughter).
Q. There's been a lot of unofficial talk about the purse this week. Can you confirm what the purse is and whether the final amount is a world record for a golf tournament?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Is it a world record? The purse is $9 million. The record part I'm not -- I'd have to defer to our brain trust over here.
JAMES CRAMER: We'll have to look. We'll research that.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: I've learned over the years never to jump in and say, "Yeah, absolutely."
Q. You talked about 18 months or so ago about trying to get a national campaign about trying to get fans in here from beyond the city, the county, the region. Where do you stand on that and what's it going to take?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Yeah, we really want to -- it's a combination of things. We really want to reach out to fans around the country and invite them to be here, and we feel like we have more room generally, and to some extent we would even prioritize giving people access ahead of our normal ticket sales here. But we have a lot of capacity, and to give us the capability to do that, we upgraded our parking lots out here so we don't lose them now if it rains, which was not the case in the past. And then we have one off-site parking area on the north side off of Butler, and we will have a secondary one to the south on Nocatee next year or so, and that will give us a lot of external parking capability.
The property will take a fair number of people, we just held it at a certain level over the years because of the infrastructure. So we want to do that.
The reason we want to do it is because, A, we want fans around the country to feel like they're wanted here. We want to communicate with fans, and we don't think there's a better way to communicate with them than reaching out to them and inviting them to come.
And yes, we started into that and we decided to get our ducks in order this year, and we will start that process really on Monday morning after the tournament. Tickets will go on sale nationally, and we will be talking a little bit about that during the telecast.
Q. What are your expectations? Are you going to have a contest for who came the farthest?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: No, we'll just throw it open and see what happens, and we'll go to a certain number and evaluate what's happening around the country and make some decisions for next year, and then the following year we'll make some other decisions, but we'll see. It depends on a number of factors.
I'm sure that people around the country are looking at the weather here today and being excited about driving down from Chicago to come and visit tomorrow, so maybe we should wait even further than Monday. But no, we will kick it off on Monday.
How we do that, through Tournament Players Clubs, through the media, through our partners magazine, we'll see where it goes, but we're going to start slow and build up over the next three or four years.
Q. What was your reaction to Tiger calling 17 gimmicky, being that it plays such a central role in this tournament?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: I read the transcript. It doesn't trouble me. There are an awful lot of players over the years who have not had a good time at 17 for whatever reason. It plays -- you know, his suggestion that maybe it should be No. 8 is an interesting one. It plays as No. 8 -- everybody who's ever played the tournament has played it as No. 8 because we have a two-tee start on Thursday and Friday, so they have that experience. He's the first player I've heard suggest that we move it to No. 8 on the weekend. We don't intend to do that.
I saw in his comments he used the word "wonderful" related to the hole, so I like that part.
Q. It was somewhat confusing. We weren't sure if it was wonderful or gimmicky.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, I think 17 is confusing to players. You go back over the time and look at what a player thinks about that hole -- I remember one year about 10 or 11 years ago, I ran into Seve Ballesteros on a Saturday morning here over at the clubhouse, and he had missed the cut. I didn't follow his round, but he came up to me and said, you have to do something about 17; it's a terrible hole. It's an awful hole.
I said, well, what exactly? He said, well, you need to put a bail-out area. There needs to be a place to bail out. You're either on the green or in the water, no place to bail out. I said, Seve, it's 132 yards. Why do you want to bail out? He said something about a bunker or something. I said, Seve, did you happen to hit it in the water yesterday afternoon? He said, well, yes, but that has nothing to do with it (laughter). It's had an interesting reaction over the years. We like the way it is.
Q. You're now 33 years into this thing. Every year we come here and there's always the question fifth major, is it a major, isn't it a major. Where do you see that argument going or that discussion going, and how does it get -- Jack yesterday said maybe it could replace one of the existing four. What do you see happening down the road here?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: You know, I don't have an answer for that. I mean, I've been answering this question for 13 years, and I think I've been consistent in that we're not -- we don't put ourselves in the middle of the debate. We try to manage the tournament and make it as good as we can, and that's what we want to do. At some point -- I also said, though, that things are generational, things change. If at some point our players felt strongly or the golfing public felt strongly that there needed to be some adjustment to the stated hierarchy of tournaments, I suppose we would address that. I don't sense the need to do that now.
We feel really comfortable focusing on making the tournament better. And you know, the thing about THE PLAYERS is over the years, if you go back 20 years, it's -- as far as the tournaments we ran, manage or co-sanction, it's our flagship event. So I think we have a responsibility to use it as an event that impacts what's good for players, and that means encouraging bigger purses, candidly.
So we lead in purse levels and we use that to try to bring other tournaments along, ours, majors, whatever, the purse. We try to create the best fan experience and use modern technology to do it. We made an adjustment this year to help do that, and we like to set the bar in that regard for tournaments.
And right on down the list. I think if you talk to players, I don't care what the other tournaments are in some sort of hierarchical adjustment, in terms of a player saying what is the best run tournament, this is right up there, and it helps set the standard.
That's important in terms of the overall professional side of the sport improving. Those are major objectives. It's not small stuff, and it forces us to concentrate on getting better.
The people in this room and others stimulate this discussion. I've never instituted this discussion, I've just answered the question. I think it's flattering to the organization to have the question asked because it does conjure up the notion that THE PLAYERS is a very good tournament, and that's great. But I don't think it's necessary to try to develop some edict that certain -- if you start looking at the records of major wins by players, that somehow there needs to be an adjustment there or things of that nature.
20 years from now, that might be a different situation.
Q. Does Tiger and to a lesser extent Phil have more influence on TOUR decisions and how the TOUR is run than other players?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: No.
Q. And if not, do you think there's a perception that they do and how do you confront that?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: I think there's always been a perception that top players have more access, more involvement, more impact than other players. It's just -- I think that's an understandable perception. I mean, why wouldn't they? To the average fan, if your top four or five players got together and said we should change tournament regulation X, wouldn't the tournament pay attention to that? I think the TOUR would, but the TOUR is the organization of the players. So I suspect the players would in that context.
During my tenure, a lot of top players don't spend a lot of energy in worrying about the structure of the TOUR, the details, our rules and regulations. They tend to be more focused on either where am I going to play and how am I going to beat everybody else on that playing surface, or how am I going to use the PGA TOUR platform for my marketing advantage. That commands most of their interest.
I think other players actually tend to spend more energy focused on decisions and issues that come before us. I continue to be amused -- I'll give you one example. I just read an article here this week that said that the reason for the FedExCup was because Phil and Tiger wanted a shorter season. That's just wrong. It actually had nothing to do with the FedExCup. I mean, it's true that Tiger and Phil at one point or another have said, you know, I'd like to see a shorter season. I think lots of top players over the years -- a lot of players generally have said I'd like to see a shorter season. Why is that? It's a long season. It starts in January and goes until November. And you don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that if you're going to end the season with the TOUR Championship and it's well into the football season, that's a challenge.
So we wanted to convert that to a system where we could have a good solid season to a section of our season and maintain solid playing opportunities for the membership, so we managed the situation where we have $32 million in prize money in the fall and we have the FedExCup, and these guys can decide how they want to use that platform. I think there is way too much written about that subject from a perception standpoint than relates to the real world.
Q. As a fan of all sports, I enjoy Major League's Homerun Contest or NBA's Slam Dunk Contest. I don't know if it's in the works or not, but would it be asking too much to have a TOUR long drive contest this week in the future since there is no Pro-Am?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, it's not too much to ask. I think you just asked it. Let me tell you, we used to have one. We had a long drive competition out on the TOUR. We had it a lot of weeks, and we eventually did away with it, and the reason we did was primarily because it tied up a portion of the golf course or the practice area in a way that wasn't consistent with preparation for a tournament at this level, and we felt that there are long drive contest opportunities out there, but functionally there's not much difference between a long drive competition or a putting competition or a chipping competition or a closest to the pin competition. They're all individual elements of the game, and it's more of an exhibition and it's really not consistent with golf at the PGA TOUR level. That was our thinking.
Q. What is your assessment of the way the FedExCup race is going, and do you see it picking up even more popularity as it continues?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: I think that it's gone pretty much about what we thought would happen. I think right now that if -- as we shift the gears now, as we get into June, we'll spend a lot more energy trying to focus fans on the playoff side of the equation and what it means to qualify for the Playoffs and be seeded in the Playoffs, and during that period, if, for example, Tiger Woods wins four more times and has a commanding lead, it probably takes an edge off a little bit in terms of the import of the No. 1 seed, but then the interest might switch to the second, third and fourth seeds, and that obviously would give us an opportunity to point out that when we re-seed for the Playoffs, even though he has a big regular season lead, his seeding position, No. 1, only gives him a slight margin going into the Playoffs.
So we have to get people engaged in the Playoffs. I think if the Playoffs are not particularly compelling, a player comes out, the third seed, he wins the first, second, third event and not much chance for anybody to pass him in the fourth week, it would not be nearly as compelling as if five guys could win it going to the TOUR Championship. And if the latter happens, I think we're in a better position to engage fans.
Our assessment right now is it is an absolute plus for the TOUR and for tournaments and for sponsors and for the players, no question. How big of a plus, we'll have a better sense of after the Playoffs this year, and then we'll see what happens next year. But if we get a good base late this year then I think we'll be in good shape for next year.
I think we have to be careful to remind fans that this is in addition to everything else we've had. It's not in place of anything. It doesn't take the place of some things that the Money List stands for. It doesn't -- it is not in competition with THE PLAYERS or the PGA Championship or any of that. It stands for what it is; it's a season-long competition, and I'm delighted that the players see it that way, are supporting it, and I'm pleased that from my perspective, maybe not 100 percent, but virtually all the players that are in those top seeds going into the competition will play all four weeks, which that would be the first time that ever happened in this sport, and I think it would be pretty exciting.
End of FastScripts