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January 5, 2011

Tim Finchem


DOUG MILNE: We would like to welcome Commissioner Tim Finchem, thanks for joining us for a few minutes. We'll just open it up with a couple of comments from you. Obviously an exciting 2011 season starting right here with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, exciting new sponsor and we'll just turn it over to you for a few opening comments.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Just keep going, you're doing good.
DOUG MILNE: A few opening comments, and then we'll take a few questions.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, we are delighted to be here again to start the season this year. I'll make a few comments out at the opening ceremony, but Hyundai is engaged. I think they are going to be an excellent title sponsor for us, and even though we got started late in the year, their impact is being felt, and not only are we looking forward to great things next year when we have a full year of preparation, we are excited about this year. We are particularly excited about the young players coming up and watching how they do. Be happy to try to answer any questions that you have about whatever.

Q. I know The Presidents Cup throws a wrench into the year later this year, but as much as it seems the first part of the year, golf around the world is pretty well structured. Are you at all concerned that the back end of the year is getting unbelievably crowded?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Not really. I mean, I think, you know, it's now like the rest of the year, sort of. So we'll figure it out as we go forward. I think it's too soon with the number of things that have happened late in the year to really determine what the long-term impact is.
Of course, The Presidents Cup in 2013 will move back up earlier and in 2015, we are not sure where it goes because we are still in the negotiation process to see where we are going to play.
But yeah, there's a lot going on late in the year for us and The European Tour, and that will probably continue as global golf sort of continues to grow and become more organized. That's particularly true in Asia and to some extent in South America.
It's an ongoing process and we'll just have to see how things shake out.

Q. You left the structure of the FedExCup alone this year; correct? Was there any consideration given, because there was a lot of talk about how one third-place finish or one second-place finish could all of the sudden basically trump what someone had done all year long.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Yeah, I think I referenced this in Atlanta. But really, the only question of significance during the year was on the question of volatility driven by the points structure of the Playoffs. And the question raised by some players and others that while you want the full season to have a real impact on who gets to Atlanta and where the seeds are going into Atlanta, at the same time, there's too much volatility and somebody can come from pretty far back and scoot way up into that list without winning.
And so we did look at that and we looked at it carefully. But once you go, we felt like across the board, there clearly was a recognition that play early meant a lot late, regardless of what happened late. There were a number of examples of that. Tiger Woods actually is one, because had Tiger Woods started playing his normal schedule last year, and played basically the same level that he played the rest of the year, he would have been in Atlanta. We just felt it was a little quick to react to that. We would rather watch it another year.
I do think it's an issue that clearly deserves watching. And then the other side of it, smaller reason, but a reason, was that, again, we just felt like we wanted a solid continuity to continue to get more fans involved in the process without a distraction of explaining a change. So that weighed into that discussion a little bit.
But it's certainly an open question and it's certainly something we are going to watch carefully as we go this year. We have had four good years, the percentage of the fans involved in it have grown nicely every year. And we feel like every year the player that -- or certainly every year, you can make an argument that the player that should have won, won.
So we just want to build on that this year, and then these kind of questions we'll keep an eye on and maybe make a change for the future.

Q. Last year at this time, there were a lot of tournaments that you were negotiating with; you know that Tiger had not come yet and you were not really sure when. Can you talk about how you see the season -- how different the season is for you this year than it was at the beginning of the year last year?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think last year at this point there was less certainty, certainly more concern about the economy and what was happening. There was yet to be an end in sight to the downturn and still a lot of volatility. We had more on our plate to do from the sponsorship standpoint in that environment.
This year, we have stabilized and the economy seems to be picking back up and we have come through a good, solid year of doing a lot of business in a bad environment. So I think that's that.
Last year, we were just into the period of time when Tiger was stepping away from the game, and there was a lot of uncertainty that arose out of that, plus the distraction that it created.
This year it seems that that is pretty much behind us now, and we can look forward to a good, solid year of golf from him; where he competes, that's another matter, but just playing and the lack of the distraction, that's solid.
And then the third difference I would see is that in 2010, we had a significant uptick in the interest and enthusiasm about young players and their performances in '10, which have led us to conclude that we really ought to focus a lot of energy on that, which we are doing this year. That's a very positive thing; I think if that continues.
So all of that makes for a different situation. I think as is the case with some of these indexes you read, like consumer confidence and seeing the reaction to the markets, about stabilization since the election, seeing an improved business climate, I just sense there's a much more positive attitude in sports, too.
We feel very, very good about '11 and we are excited on all front, starting with building stars, the economic climate, and also we felt like over the last two years, we have gotten -- we have made a lot of progress in getting people generally, fans, public sector, to understand the businesses, the charity business model that we have and the economic impact that we generate in communities around the country and to some extent around the world, and that has I think really helped solidify our base of support. We want to continue that.
And lastly, I think candidly, the inclusion of golf in the Olympics at the end of '09 has really, already, had the effect of growing or raising the trajectory of growth of golf around the globe, which is of interest to our sponsors, because most of our sponsors now are global companies. It also, clearly, is affecting the image of the sport, because in places like Asia, South America, Eastern Europe, the fact that golf is in the Olympics says that golf is a true athletic endeavor, and it's one of the elite sports. And that is changing the way governments look at the sport, as well. There's an awful lot of energy that evolves around that that will pay off in the years to come.
So all of these things are very positive. That's not to say we don't have our challenges. We've still got a lot of challenges. But to answer your question, there's a lot of I think movement from a year ago to today.

Q. The non-member Europeans chose to bypass this event because of the number of events that they can play on this tour. I wonder if there's some movement being discussed or considered to make this event exempt from that number, a la, THE PLAYERS Championship, to sort of ensure that they might have an option or a better option to consider coming here.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, there isn't any specific on the table now beyond what we have, no. It's an area of our rules that we look at from time to time and we'll continue to look at it generally. I wouldn't say that there's any specific change that we have in mind.
The step we took on THE PLAYERS was all about THE PLAYERS. It wasn't about the rule and it wasn't about the number of international players playing the TOUR. We actually are comfortable with the amount of international players we have. We had 75 players from outside the United States exempt on the TOUR this year, a significant increase over ten years ago. It got to a point four or five years ago where it stabilized, and we like that level, and that's one thing.
And then the second thing is that this recent focus on three or four players, particularly as it relates to Europe, does not cause us concern. I mean, we see the need for these players to support the Tour in Europe. We feel like a strong European Tour is in everybody's interest, in our interests. The European Tour has been under a lot of pressure, and we didn't help their cause when we moved THE PLAYERS to May and when we created the FedExCup with the Playoffs.
What that did was it put significant pressure on their early summer and late summer schedule, when any player or most players who are dual members are going to play more here in the early summer because of THE PLAYERS and then again late in the summer.
So the fact that they have worked hard to encourage their players to play more and changed their rules as it relates to The Ryder Cup for that reason, is understandable, and we don't complain about that. We think that those steps are reasonable, and we support players playing more over there, even though it might cost us some starts over here. We feel like we are strong enough and we like the balance of international players.
And you can make an argument, candidly, long-term that it's in our interests that we keep that balance; that we not be a tour populated 90 percent by players outside the U.S. We need to appeal to the market in the United States, and it's a good balance. It's a balance that allows us to be very successful in the United States and at the same time be very successful in distributing our television product around the globe. As long as those two things are working, we don't have any concerns about this other stuff.

Q. So it didn't adversely effect -- just focusing on this event.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: If you go back and you look at who plays here and who doesn't play here over the last 15 years, you can always point to examples of some international players who have -- I remember Nick Price wanting to support the Tour in South Africa and didn't feel like he could do both. There are those examples.
But again, as I said at the start of that, my little statement there, that it's an area that we look at and we will continue to look at.

Q. Last month the merits of Rickie Fowler versus Rory McIlroy for Rookie of the Year made for a very heated debate. I wondered, what your take was on that topic?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I can't speak for the players, because there's 195 of them that vote and they voted. You'd have to talk to them.
But looking at it from if I were a player, and I was looking at this comparison, what would I say; and I think it's as has been described in the press, I think it's really a question, likely, I'm not going to again speak for the players, but how much emphasis do you put on winning a tournament and how much emphasis do you put on season-long consistent performance, and to some extent, the support of the TOUR?
In this case, Rickie was ahead of Rory on the Money List and he was ahead of him on the FedExCup points. He didn't win but he had a consistent year, and he played more events. Some players would say yeah, but winning is everything, I vote for the guy who won. Other guys will say, I'm compelled by this. And I suppose, based on what you all have written -- I haven't heard a player say this, but I've read that some players just question the criteria of designating Rory a rookie, which I suppose might have affected some votes.
But you know, I don't think it's an unreasonable determination either way you go. And frankly, as I responded to Doug Ferguson's question in California, having a little controversy around it creates a little interest. Nothing wrong with that.

Q. The BCS issue, too --
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: We can get into that but we don't have enough time.

Q. Seems like over there, they have a very easy time getting players to show up at various corporate functions and get much more involved than we tend to see over here. Why do you think that is and how would you create a culture where it becomes a more natural reaction for players?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I can't speak to what happens over there. I know that here we are very comfortable with our current culture. This is an area that in the last few years we have tracked very, very carefully when we engaged our sponsor support initiative I think three years ago, and we had 900-plus player appearances at various and sundry corporate, sponsor, charity-related stuff that we like to see them participate in. We had no player who didn't participate in the program that was in the top 180 players.
So we are very pleased and our sponsors are very pleased and it's one of the reasons we have been able to -- not the only reason certainly, but certainly a factor in terms of how we have performed in extending sponsorships the last couple of years.
Be happy to look more closely at defensive results of The European Tour, other tours efforts in that, but we are pretty comfortable with where we are.

Q. The drug program has been in place now for a while. I wanted to kind of get your feeling on how you feel the success is on the program; and b, because there's really been only one documented violation, is there any looking at maybe changing the program somewhat so it is not so costly, but yet still do the job it needs to do?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Yeah, I think the upshot of the amount of testing we have done, which is significant, is that we certainly don't have any kind of widespread problem in that area. I think that's due to the nature of the sport to some extent, but also to the diligence of the players in paying attention to the program, doing their homework, being careful, calling and asking questions.
And I think in that part of it, Alex, we have to continue to do our job to make sure this is front and center in front of players, because as we know from other sports, a lot of positive tests arise out of just dumb mistakes. And the only way to avoid that is to make sure that people are focused on it.
Now, in terms of the testing level, I suppose at some point in the future, we may look to ways to cut back and save money, but at least for now, we are still new at this, we are still into it and we still recognize that while all of the questions that were raised in the two or three years prior to us testing have turned out to be, you know, not credible problems.
We know by watching other sports, it doesn't take a lot for this kind of stuff to change what people think about the athletes in our sport. So we are not going to change anything right away. But we are monitoring it very carefully.

Q. Just curious, feedback from the Malaysia tournament from your point of view and the TOUR's point of view and what do you see for relationships like that going forward in that part of the world?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, we got good reaction in Malaysia. The players liked the golf course. I would say that the questions that were raised there from an operational, staging, all of the normal things that a golf tournament represents, are well within the range of what you would see at any tournament. A lot of little things need to be addressed, but in the big things, it worked quite well.
We are currently engaged in the future of the World Cup, which is being staged in China; the future of the HSBC World Golf Championship from a long-term standpoint, where do we want those events to be; we are engaged in discussions with the various tours in the region about what we might do to be of assistance to them; and at the same time maybe, maybe, some additional competition.
So it's a work-in-progress. I think you look at it in the short term, the question is, should we play more events there; but in the long term, the question is what can we do to help shape what professional golf is in that region as it becomes as mature throughout the region as it has been in Japan for the last 25 years. What is the structure of professional golf going to look like and how does that structure fit into the overall global competitive format.
And then those questions are now clearly getting on the horizon over the next ten years, 15 years need to be addressed, and we just want to make sure we are doing everything we can to help formulate that so that if you go out 30 years, you're looking at a truly vibrant, robust structure of professional men's golf globally. And that takes on the sum of a lot of little parts. It's an area that we need to be spending more energy on.
Thank you all very much. Thanks for being here this week.

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