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June 29, 2011

Tim Finchem


NELSON SILVERIO: Welcome, Commissioner Tim Finchem, to the interview room here at the AT&T National. Commissioner, just start us off with some general thoughts and then we'll open it up to questions.
TIM FINCHEM: Okay, thank you. I'm here today for a while, so we wanted to give you the opportunity -- the primary purpose of this is to give you the opportunity to ask me anything that's on your mind. I would like to start off with a couple of things. First, thank again Aronimink, the members here, for their hospitality and for the hard work they put in to preparing for the AT&T National playing here last year and this year, the work that went into working on the golf course prior to us coming last year and the work to get it in the condition that it was last year and again this year, as well. Appreciate it.
Of course our sponsor this week, AT&T, a long-time partner of the PGA TOUR. I know Randall Stephenson is here this week, and with the many things that he has in running that business, we're delighted to see him take some time to participate in the pro-am and some of the other events of the day.
In addition to that, on another subject, I'd like to -- you may be aware that today we are or have just announced a couple things with respect to the first playoff event in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup, the Barclays. We have extended our sponsorship, partnership with Barclays for five years going out to '16, and we are also announcing today a rotation through '16 that includes in 2012 Bethpage Black course, and we will play Bethpage Black again in '16. In '13 we'll go back to Liberty National; '14 we'll play Ridgewood Country Club; and '15 we'll go back to Plainfield where we're playing this year.
So we're excited about that rotation. It accomplishes a couple of things. One, obviously playing at Bethpage Black is in and of itself special, but also the concept over the last few years was to try to move the Barclays around the metropolitan area somewhat, give different parts of that huge metropolitan area an opportunity to enjoy the tournament close by, and a rotation that moves us over from New Jersey to Long Island for these next few years will work nicely, and then of course we'll start looking at the years after that.
Barclays themselves have spent a lot of -- put a lot of energy into improving the quality of the staging of the tournament every year, and we appreciate their ongoing partnership up in New York and the New York area, as well.
I think it's also great news for the kickoff of our first playoff event that we start every year up there.
Third thing I'd just say is that we have in the last few weeks made a number of these type of announcements, like the announcement at Hilton Head last week. We have a couple more as we try to round out our planning and partnerships for the next cycle, as we call it, starting in 2013. So we'll probably have a couple more extensions and sponsorship details to share with you in the weeks to come.
Based on that, we're really pleased with the momentum we've had. If you look back three years with the economic crisis that occurred, we all were concerned about the extent to which we could go into that and hopefully come out of it stronger than when we went in, and it would appear that that has been the case, and we just want to thank the companies, the individuals, the players for their support in working together to take us through this. That doesn't mean we don't have challenges ahead. The economy still is in a very iffy posture. But certainly we feel like the base has now been laid so that we can look out five or six years with a lot of positive anticipation.
With that, I'll throw it open to your questions and be happy to try to answer them.

Q. I know Doug has asked this question in the past, but in light of Rory's victory at the U.S. Open I wanted to bring it up again, about possibly exempting players on the top 10 in the world into whatever events that they wanted to play as opposed to the system now where you have Rory and Lee and some others who can't take up PGA TOUR membership because they don't want to play the minimum or whatever the case may be.
TIM FINCHEM: Well, it's certainly a possibility. I wouldn't say it's the first thing on our agenda. We actually are reasonably comfortable with the rules and regs that we've enjoyed for the last 15 years or so. However, we always look at these kind of things and will continue to do so.
In the case of Rory, which by winning the Open has resulted in these kinds of questions to us, I would just say that he's a terrific young player. I think the sky's the limit for him. But we increasingly look at things on a global basis, not just an our-tournament basis. If we're successful in changing rules so that a player, an international player can play four or five more times here, three times here, that's great for those weeks here; it means that he's not going to play three or four times someplace else.
So we can't just make decisions based on what's in the best short-term interest for our TOUR. I think we have to keep in mind why the strength of the other Tours is important, certainly why growth of the game globally is important, particularly as we enter into the Olympic era for golf, and lastly I think that we are quite successful with the international mix of players we have today.
If we made that decision, it wouldn't be because we were worried about that; it would be because we just feel like it's the best thing overall for competition, and we would do so in consultation with not only our players but the Tours from around the world. The short answer to your question is sure, we look at these things all the time, we'll continue to do so. Whether we're going to go down the road and try to get something done in the next year, probably not, but we'll continue to evaluate situations.

Q. When you played at Liberty National last there were a few issues brought up by the players that I'm sure will be taken into consideration. Will there be any changes to the golf course to address some of the issues that they raised?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, yeah, there have been, and I think that over my years here there have been very few times where we've played a golf course for the first time that we don't get a lot of input on what it ought to be, and particularly true when you play a new golf course. Liberty was obviously brand new when we played it. We got a lot of suggestions. Liberty has made a few adjustments in I think a very positive way. I wouldn't call them fundamental. I think most of the player input was subtle things around greens, subtle things that impact the play of the hole. But I think some nice changes, and that's always an evolution with a golf course.
I remember last time I was at Pinehurst they were telling me that Donald Ross over 40 years made 241 changes to Pinehurst No. 2. It's always a work in progress. But we wanted to get back to Liberty. I think it's one of the most stunning settings for professional golf there is on the planet, and we want to take advantage of that, and we're delighted that the club assisted us with making some positive changes to give us a better competitive format going forward.

Q. You've been floating the Q-school and Nationwide changes in front of players the past couple weeks. What kind of changes to that proposal are being looked at and what are the odds they'll be implemented for 2012 and '13?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, more than the last few weeks, really going back to late last fall, we've been exploring with players different ways to -- it's maybe to enhance the Nationwide Tour and at the same time perhaps to improve the overall process of qualifying for a PGA TOUR card.
You know, we've gone down different roads, different directions, and we continue to do so, and there's a number of options that are on the table. I think we've been successful since the spring in getting more players focused on it. I suspect it -- these changes if implemented would be for 2013 although they could conceivably occur in 2012. We have additional Player Advisory Council meetings scheduled this summer, player meetings this fall, and we'll know more about that then. But it's one of those things where it's a fairly dramatic change, so it results in a lot of different kinds of input, depending on the player you're talking to, which is to be understood. So we'll see what develops.

Q. Just curious what it was like dealing with Bethpage and the state government and going to Bethpage compared with what they've probably been through with a different organization, different tournament, with the USGA and the U.S. Open.
TIM FINCHEM: Well, you know, I didn't do it myself; our team did it. But very positive. They were very open to looking at the possibilities and entering into a rotation. I don't want to speak for them; I think they're going to have their own things to say about this, but just generally I would say that they were focused on economic impact, as any tournament site would be for that part of New York, and to some extent economic development in terms of conveying, as our worldwide television does, things about New York. So I think those two things were probably the major drivers.
In addition, there is the business of the park and its golf courses itself, which they thought would be enhanced. So I suspect the same set of reasons that were used in evaluating the request some years ago from the USGA, same factors, different governor, different management team, but probably the same factors.

Q. Secondly, have you started negotiations for TV?

Q. Have you started to put together different permutations of schedules to present to TV?
TIM FINCHEM: A long time ago.

Q. How many do you have so far?
TIM FINCHEM: There are a lot of changes. We might have one one day and another day we might have three, so it's just a work in progress. You know, it's different levels of things you look at, where are we with sponsors, how are our tournaments performing, does the flow of the schedule work from a field quality standpoint. We're in a global setting clearly today, so what's happening around the globe. You know, you have a variety of things before you get to what television would like to see. Television always has their own opinions on schedule.
Sponsors and tournaments have their own views about schedule for their tournament, and there's always a number of them that would like to see an adjustment, so you have to sort of assume decisions you're going to make in those areas as you put together a long-term blueprint. Now, there's always room for adjustment within the blueprint, but when you do television you have to have a blueprint for what you're selling. So it's a lot of different factors.
It was complicated over the last couple years because our sponsorship situation was not quite 100 percent, and so that also raises a couple of additional questions. But the NFL schedule, the possibility that the NFL schedule might expand and conceivably -- contractually the way that's all set up is it might preclude a network from doing something on a particular weekend, so that plays into it, as well, and watching how that's going is of interest. So there's a lot of different factors.
And if you start a year in advance, by the time you get there, other sports have made different changes. One year you might wake up and the Kentucky Derby has changed its date, hockey finals have moved around. So there's a variety of things to look at that might affect a market and things on television in general. We just try the best we can to go forward when we get there with a concrete plan that works for them and works for our sponsors and works for our tournaments.

Q. Obviously we have the weekend yet to go here at Aronimink, but just wondered what your feeling was about the way the fans of Philadelphia and the business community have responded to this tournament over the last two years, and do you see any scenario in the future that the TOUR could come here on a more permanent basis?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, I think the support and involvement has been fantastic. We certainly weren't surprised by that for two reasons: One, this is a terrific sports town with a terrific economy of its own; secondly, PGA TOUR hasn't been here in a while, and we have a strong fan base here; and third, in our first early discussions with the leadership here at Aronimink, there was terrific enthusiasm by the membership, as well. So the fact that there's been the support is not surprising.
The fact that it's happened, to answer your second question, does certainly lead us to conclude that we would definitely like to continue an involvement here in Philadelphia, and we're actively looking for ways to do that. We have a full schedule right now, but there are some times we're moving tournaments around, doing things. We certainly wouldn't want -- we recognize that the U.S. Open is coming here, and that's good. But this is a place where you don't want to be gone for very long. That's not good for the sport. So we'll be looking at that.

Q. To follow up on that if I could, that was pretty much my question, but last year you were very patient, and we appreciate it, in explaining the entire scenario of sponsor involvement and the possibility of the TOUR lobbying a sponsor by saying, this is a wonderful place to come and a void that really needs to be filled, maybe not a sponsor that's located here. Has any of that taken place? Are you still willing to go down that road?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, we are. Just to follow up on my answer, I honestly think we're looking after the Open. We just made an adjustment in the AT&T National to accommodate the USGA in Washington, so it probably doesn't make a lot of sense to try to get something going here before the Open. So based on that, it's not something that's driven by, okay, where is our cycle going to be in '13. But we will be. We'll be looking for opportunities.

Q. In light of Tiger's injuries, do you see Jack's major record as being more unattainable than you did before?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, it's just logical that every time he misses a competitive age, the opportunity to win a major championship, it's not a plus. So that's an easy one to answer. Whether overall he has an opportunity, I think it depends on -- I'm not worried at all about his motivation or his work ethic; those are given. But his physical ability to play obviously is a factor. He feels pretty confident that that's going to be handled, but we'll just have to wait and see.
I always -- to me as a golf fan, I think of Jack's record as really important, but I also think Snead's record is important. In fact, I told Tiger on multiple occasions, you've got to win more tournaments to get to Snead's record, and I want you to be thinking about winning more tournaments, not just four or five, because that means you'll play longer.
So I don't know. We'll just have to see what happens. And like everybody else, it'll be an interesting story to watch unfold. My sense is that the fans really want to see him come back and prevail, and that's good. In the meantime, what's been great really, and I'd rather have him playing well, believe me, but what's been great is so much focus on the young players coming up and the ability with media focus on those players which just is not available when he's playing. He dominates the media so much and the telecast, but now that it's been available, we have an enormous interest in these -- and all the data tell us that that's the case, the amount of time a fan is staying with the telecast, the amount of interest that's showing on the website of the players, the word of mouth, the emails, and that's very healthy for our sport, very, very healthy, because when Jack -- when you left the Jack era, between the Jack era and the Tiger era, that was what was happening on the TOUR. We were getting 50, 60, 70 star players that you go out here in a pro-am and everybody knows, and that's been more difficult in the Tiger era, more so even than in the Jack era because of the overload of media.
So having that breakthrough is very important for the future of the sport, and it's paying dividends for us already. But my -- I just see his enthusiasm and his work ethic. I think he's going to be back and he'll be very competitive.

Q. I wonder in light of McIlroy's victory, did any light in your head say maybe here's another guy who could threaten it?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, I thought that after he won at Quail Hollow in the Wells Fargo. I thought, that is a very -- I understand everybody talks about major championships, and since Tiger Woods took on the task of beating Jack's record, the major championships have been a major focus, and I recognize and appreciate that. But Tiger has won, what, 59 tournaments that weren't majors, and winning tournaments against the best players in the world builds confidence.
And when you go out there against a very strong field and shoot 63 and blow away the field, that to me was a signal. And then when he shot 63 at the Old Course and he led, had a nice lead at Augusta, and then I think it was after the second round at the Open, when asked about Augusta, he said, it's not going to be a problem; I did it and I learned from it; it won't happen again. I thought that was a pretty confident statement.
You go back and look at his youth when he was on television shows and he had all this focus, it really harkens to the way that Tiger developed in developing confidence, and Tiger is the first one to say there's only one difference between me and a lot of guys out here, and that's confidence.
No, I'm not surprised at all. I wasn't -- the margin was surprising obviously, but he is -- and to watch him on Sunday walking around with him, he was very loose, he was very relaxed, he was smiling and laughing and enjoying it like he's 16 years old. I mean, it's just great to watch. It's terrific for golf.

Q. Just to follow up on Doug's question about permutations in the schedule, when you're considering all of the various things that you have to consider, do you and the other major sports bodies get together to collaborate on different things or to compare schedules to try and work out possible conflicts that might hurt the other or help the other, anything like that?
TIM FINCHEM: Yeah, we do. We try to keep -- we're in touch with them and we try to keep a beat on what's going on. I think the one thing that they're all together on right now, other than one sport, is that the NFL hopefully won't extend its schedule. I think everybody is on the same page, whether it's NASCAR, baseball, NBA. So we're all together on that. We'll wait to see what happens.
But we do that, yes, we do, because you need to know -- particularly in tennis. For example, in Miami we were playing a couple years ago the same week as one of the big tournaments in tennis. You've got to pay attention to all that stuff, in-market and nationally, yes.

Q. You mentioned field quality as one criterion that you use in evaluating the schedule making and so on and the ability to draw quality fields. Can you talk in general terms or however about what some of the PGA TOUR's criteria are in judging field quality? They don't often coincide with --
TIM FINCHEM: No, because we look at field quality as based on our own list of players that are of interest to fans, really. I mean, somebody asked me the other day, how much does a player who finishes 125th on the Money List earn outside of official money. It depends on who the player is. If Freddie Couples was 125th, it would be a very different thing than a lot of other players. So those things move the needle in terms of your interest among the media, enthusiasm of the television announcers, how the fans are going to react to it, how tickets are sold, all those things are affected by a range of players, not just the players who happen to be in the top 20 or top 30 or top 50 World Ranking. So we look at it different ways.
The point I was making, though, about the schedule is that depending on where a tournament is, you've got weather issues, but you also have flow issues in terms of what's happening around the tournament, and you have to be sensitive to that and make sure that a tournament has a reasonable chance to compete for good field quality.
Now, I'm pleased -- we're pretty pleased this year, there's been a good movement of players around the schedule, so we think that's helpful. But we have a lot of tournaments with a lot of competition, and it's challenging.
On the other hand, week in and week out, we've got 20 million more people tuning in to our telecast on average, so from a sponsor standpoint that's good, and that's one of the reasons we're fully sponsored.

Q. This year designating tournaments was voluntary. What kind of impact do you feel like it's had and are you still considering making it into an actual policy?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, I haven't thought too much about it. We'll look at it after the season and talk about it this fall. But I know generally we're very pleased whether we need to take another step. We'll take a look at that probably in October.

Q. Is there any concern about getting FedEx to renew after this run?
TIM FINCHEM: No, not this time, but we put FedEx in the same category as television. In other words, FedEx has the same view as television; what's the full schedule, where are you going, so that will be discussions that we have ongoing in a year. But based on everything I know, FedEx is very pleased with the way the Cup has performed these first four years.

Q. They're interested in renewing?

Q. When you have a fully sponsored schedule, where does that leave talk about a tournament in Detroit?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, we are in discussions in Detroit. We're in discussions with the community. We have a working discussion going on with General Motors which has shown strong interest. We feel like we could have a very strong tournament in Detroit. It wasn't in Detroit, but our tournament in Flint, the Buick Open, for 50 years, left, we've been looking at renewing that particular relationship with GM even though they are our sponsor in Miami. But we also have a loyalty to our current sponsors and tournaments to do what we can to perpetuate, and that's worked out pretty well.
So we have some challenges in that regard. But our hope is that depending on how our schedule works out for the long-term that we will be able to figure out a way to get them on the schedule because we do think it would be a very positive addition. I just am not in a position to say how it's going to happen just yet.
NELSON SILVERIO: Commissioner, thank you very much.

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