Posted on: February 28, 2012 8:55 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 8:58 pm

Nicklaus poses heretical idea: Use 12-hole days

By Steve Elling

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The NFL has the three-hour game almost down to a science. Big-league baseball not so much, but games are usually around that general time mark.

Basketball games in college and the pros log in well under that time figure.

So, how are fans supposed to remain engaged for a round of golf, not the most stimulating sport visually for spectators, if it takes five hours to complete? Or for the actual practitioners, five hours to play?

A possible answer: Cut the number of holes. Or at minimum, redistribute them. In theory, it would certainly help retain eyeballs in an era of increasingly shorter attention spans.

The game's biggest father figure, 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus, said Tuesday at the Honda Classic that he's suggested to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem that a tournament in the future be cut down to 12-hole days, perhaps played over six days, versus 18 holes over four days.

"I'm trying to talk Tim -- and I talked to him about a year ago and he sort of poohpoohed me -- about the 12-hole golf," Nicklaus said. "He came back to me at the Masters last year and he says, 'You know, we are going to do more with this 12-hole golf. I'm going to do something with it.'

"He hasn't done anything yet, but he has it in his head. He likes it for the First Tee because they have two sixes [six-hole courses] and it makes a lot less time for First Tee. I said, 'Tim, what would be the difference -- we have to legitimize, if you are going to have people play 12-hole golf, you have to play golf in 2 1/2 hours."

Nicklaus has experimented with 12-hole rounds at his home track in Columbus, Ohio.

"Every other sport is played in less than three hours. If we can do that, why can't we play a tournament where we play six 12-hole rounds?" he said. "You just play a round and a half a day. You score it differently is all.  You wake up in the morning and you see where you've shot a 46 and a 23 and you shot 69 for the day as total number of strokes."

Actually, most people track scores relative to par, anyway, so a full 18-hole score at the end of the day has been somewhat marginalized already. In a 12-hole day, a player would be 3-under, and that number could be tracked instead over the 72-hole week.

"It's just how you score it, legitimize it, to get people to think about the game in a different way." Nicklaus said. "I hope he'll do it."

Don't hold your breath. The 18-hole round has been around for centuries, and Finchem is unwilling to do much more than turn his head on issues relating to slow play. But if Nicklaus presses the issue, it can't possibly hurt.

Posted on: February 22, 2012 10:30 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:25 pm

Match play to remain in 'Zona, but where?

By Steve Elling 

MARANA, Ariz. -- The Dove Mountain course was designed, explicitly, with match play in mind.

So when players basically deemed the host venue for this week's Accenture Match Play Championship as the second-worst course on the PGA Tour, it had to sting.

The venue's contract to host the tournament expires after this week, and depending on your personal view, it might come as mixed news that signs point toward the mega-money event staying put.

"Right now, we're heading in the direction of keeping it here," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday morning.

GolfWorld magazine last month ranked the courses in recent use on the tour and the Jack Nicklaus design finished ahead of one other venue, the critically savaged Liberty National course, which has hosted exactly one tour event.

So, in other words, the Dove Mountain course finished dead last among courses in annual use in tour competition.

The primary beef with players is that the greens are far too severe, as evidenced by the humorous exchange that Rory McIlroy this week recounted after he ran into Nicklaus at a South Florida shopping mall.

"He asked me what I thought of this golf course and I said it was great," McIlroy said, choosing the next few words very carefully.

"He asked me about the greens, and I went, 'they are okaaaay,'" McIlroy said, drawing laughs.

He made the point without underscoring it. The course is also located about 30 minutes from central Tucson at about 3,000 feet of elevation, whcih can cause issues when the weather changes. It snowed and hailed during the match-play finale last year. Fan attendance at the venue, which is tough to walk because of its proximity to the mountains, has been decent at best.

David Pillsbury, the tour's executive vice president of Championship Management, which runs the event, said there would be no announcement about the future fate of the site until after the tournament ends.

"We'll see how it goes, see what the attendance looks like, all that," Pillsbury said.

That said, Pillsbury strongly indicated that despite indications of the contrary, the event won't migrate far -- either in terms of geography or the calendar. The Associated Press, citing two tour sources, said there have been discussions about moving the match-play championship to Harding Park in San Francisco and slotting it in October as part of the revamped fall start to the season. According the the AP, the two sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss negotiations. Both stressed that the option was in the early stages of consideration.

"It'll be in this market and in this time frame," Pillsbury said Wednesday.

For how long?

Posted on: August 25, 2011 11:20 am
Edited on: August 25, 2011 5:27 pm

Barclays field facing wet, washout week

EDISON, N.J. -- Players are hunkered down in New Jersey for what could be a long, wet, Woodstock-type week at the first FedEx Cup series event.

Minus the rock and roll, most of the fun, and with about twice the mud.

Thunderstorms blew over Plainfield Country Club during Thursday's first round and caused a suspension of play at 10:29 a.m. ET, with no player having completed more than 13 holes, and with Hurricane Irene expected to reach the region on the weekend, this could get soppy and sloppy in a hurry.

So, now what?

With a dire forecast in mind, players already have asked whether trimming the event to 54 holes is conceivable, an idea that seemingly has more traction among the players than the PGA Tour brass, for some hard-to-fathom reason.

At a Players Advisory Committee meeting on Wednesday night, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was asked by the group, which effectively serves as the tour's House of Representatives, if paring the tournament to three rounds holes was the best remedy.

Finchem's answer was rather surprising.

"He said he would rather be here until Tuesday," PAC member Ben Crane said shortly after the rain delay horn sounded.

Easy for him to say. He doesn’t have to stay parked in Jersey suburbia twiddling his thumbs while awaiting decent weather and a playable golf course. Odds are decent they'll get neither.

As for the course, Plainfield was saturated and soft when players showed up this week, the result of nine inches of rain in the region over the previous few days.

"This golf course can’t take much more water," Crane said.

Crane said he sensed that players had no objection to shortening the tournament to 54 holes as long as everybody was given fair warning in advance. The tour, on the other hand, has a slavish devotion to completing 72 holes.

"I'd like us to play continuously," Crane said. "Finish your round and head right back out. Just keep playing as long as you can."

A 36-hole finale on Saturday would hardly be a first. Forty years ago, big events such as the U.S. Open routinely played 36 holes on Saturday by design, with no play at all on Sunday.

Finchem seemed set on waiting it out for as long as needed. Five years ago at the rain-saturated, now-defunct Booz Allen event in Washington, D.C., it took until Tuesday morning to complete the tournament.

Category: Golf
Posted on: May 15, 2011 1:16 pm
Edited on: May 15, 2011 1:17 pm

Finchem says Tiger absence not death knell

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Like pretty much all of us, he doesn’t have the slightest clue as to whether Tiger Woods' latest medical issues spell doom or merely gloom.

But as far as it relates to the health of his product, Tim Finchem believes Woods' continues time on the shelf is no longer a game-ender in the sports marketplace as far the PGA Tour is concerned. 

The PGA Tour commissioner pointed out at the Players Championship on Sunday that prognostications of impending Armageddon for the tour when Woods had his many, various setbacks of the past two years have hardly proven true, and in that time, other players have developed as marketable, popular commodities during his absence.

Let's face it: Woods has been largely irrelevant for months at a time and hasn’t won on the U.S. tour in 20 months. So for those who were curious -- morbidly or not -- about how the tour would fare without him, the past few months have been a good primer, he said.

Can the tour survive without Woods? It already has been, basically.

"The idea of the young guys challenging the established stars I think is something that's a positive thing," Finchem said in a brief chat with reporters before the final round. "The other thing is Tiger has been finishing well in advance of finish time this year, and our television ratings are up virtually across the board.

"There's a number of reasons for that, but one of them is clearly the fans are engaging with and focusing on these other players, and that's good news for the future. If you go back to the pre-Tiger era when there was much more parity, in all those years the number of what you would call an elite player or a star player or somebody that if you walked out on Wednesday the proam guys know, somebody that if you turn on your television the fans know, that number increased every year."

In fact, the tour's promotional spots on TV have been outright shoving the younger players to the fore, using them as juxtaposition with the stars like Woods and Phil Mickelson. Finchem said it was hard for the other players to find a foothold in the public mindset because of the dominance of a certain player.

"It's been harder to do that the last 12 years because there's so much focus on Tiger Woods," he said of developing stars. "I want to see him come back and win. I want him to win all the records, and I don't have any reason to believe he won't do that. There's nothing that tells me he won't do that, medical things aside. But it's also good for the longterm health of the tour to have exposure on these other guys, and we just need to take advantage of that."

Making his first comments to the print media in two months, Finchem strongly reaffirmed statements he made on television earlier in the week after a Golf Channel analyst asserted on the air that Woods only played this week because he had been pressured by the tour to appear at its flagship event. Woods withdrew after nine holes after claiming that he had re-injured his ailing knee.

The tour called the Golf Channel and strenuously complained about the report and Finchem still seem riled about it on Sunday.

"Well, it's not about him, it's any player," he said. "I don't twist players' arms, and as far as Tiger being hurt, guys, that's a decision he has to make, and I had no information that he wasn't ready to play golf. 

"I don't think anybody did. I don't think he did. I was on the range with him for a half an hour on Tuesday.  He was hitting it really well. He went and played nine holes, and he didn't have a problem. He played the next day, he didn't have a problem. He stayed on the range that day, he didn't have a problem.

"So it's all nonsense as far as I'm concerned, and I don't want to talk about it anymore."

As expected, Finchem also declined to comment on the disciplinary status of Rory Sabbatini, who has had two chronicled on-course blowups this year but has yet to be suspended. In Finchem's era, fines and suspensions have never been announced publicly, though he has stated that if a player issues false or misleading information about a sanction, the tour reserves the right to correct the information publicly. Sabbatini has twice characterized stories that a suspension is imminent as "rumors."

"We do reserve the right to clarify the record if an individual or the involved player makes a statement that is not consistent with the action, and that is the policy," he said. "I don't have any comment on what Rory Sabbatini said or what is alleged."

Since Finchem is a master of evasive action when pressed on uncomfortable topics, that could certainly be interpreted as meaning that Sabbatini won’t be suspended at all.

While other major sports have long announced sanctions against players who run afoul of the law or organizational rules, Finchem was practically defiant in defending the policy. As long as he is running the show, it appears it's not going to change, despite outcry that it's not effectively modifying the behavior of some players.

"I don't comment on disciplinary matters or whether there's an investigation going on or whether there's a process going on," he said tersely. "I don't comment. We reviewed it a number of times. We like the policy the way it is."

Posted on: May 13, 2011 4:39 pm
Edited on: May 13, 2011 4:41 pm

Finchem shoots down Tiger conspiracy theory

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Tim Finchem wasted no time refuting any supposition that the PGA Tour placed pressure on an ailing Tiger Woods to play this week at the Players Championship before he was medically ready.

Appearing live on CNBC on Friday morning, the commissioner of the tour stated unequivocally that there was never any arm-twisting to play or quid pro quo involved for making the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse available for Woods' high-profile public apology last year, a theory that was espoused on a CNBC sister network, the Golf Channel.

"... The idea that we would pressure him to do anything is ludicrous," Finchem said flatly. "We don’t pressure any player to play any tournament. Tiger doesn’t enter a tournament unless he thinks he can win.”

Maybe yes, maybe no, at least on that last point. Woods appeared nowhere near ready to play this week, given that he played only 18 holes in four weeks heading into the tournament and had spent one day practicing with his new swing coach. In the nine holes he played before withdrawing Thursday, Woods was 6 over and hit two balls in the water. There are few, if any, examples of Woods showing up to play with less preparation than this week.

Various talking heads suggested that Woods played only because he was pressure or felt beholden to the tour for making the facility available when he made his first public comments on his ruinous, off-season sex scandal. Finchem told CNBC that he was not concerned that Woods would be sidelined for a lengthy period and said ratings were up from last year in most of the season’s early broadcasts.

“The story now is the young players and when Tiger’s going to come back and play as he used to,” Finchem said. “He doesn’t need to come back and dominate like he did. He needs to play.

“My concern is where his injuries are going to go, and he doesn’t know what the answer is to that. And we won’t know that for a while.”

Despite hosting the event this week at PGA Tour headquarters, Finchem has yet to meet with the print media this week, though a Sunday press session was added after several complaints about his availability were voiced.


Category: Golf
Posted on: September 21, 2010 5:15 pm

Designated tourney notion close to reality

ATLANTA -- The commissioner of the PGA Tour said Tuesday that the organization is sure to adopt some form of bylaw next year that will either require or encourage players to tee it up in certain second-tier events.

What was called a “designated tournament” list was kicked around at the Player Advisory Committee level during the spring and forwarded up the food chain for further study. The initial recommendation called for players finishing atop the final money or FedEx Cup points lists to pick and play in a tournament that traditionally has struggled to attract top players.

For instance, in the abstract, it could require a player like Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson to examine the list of non-marquee events and then tee it up in a locale they have never before visited. Sounds good in theory, for sure.

Commissioner Tim Finchem said several variations are being discussed, but guaranteed some sort of requirement or inducement would be in place for 2011. There has been discussion in tour circles that some events that might be considered for the list don’t necessarily want to be stigmatized as needing forcible charity from the tour to build a quality field.

Even thought they obviously do.

Sponsors shelling out $7 million annually might not be receptive to needing a legislated handout to improve the perceived tournament quality, either. It could be potentially awkward in a variety of ways, depending on the form and function of the final result.

“We are in the process of discussing it with tournaments,” Finchem said. “I don't want to speak for the tournaments and players. We're looking at different ways to accomplish what we want to accomplish.  One way is the rule that's on the table. 

“There are some other ways that we might go to to get to the same place, but it would be premature of me to guess what those might be. But we're discussing different models with sponsors and with players.”

He predicted a rule could be enacted at the Nov. 15 meeting of the tour’s Policy Board.

“We will go to one of these models next year for sure. What model it is, whether it's a rule, whether it's a requirement, whether it's a process that everybody supports, we're a few weeks away from doing that."

Then again, they could raise the minimum number of tournaments from the current level of 15 to maintain status to 16-17 and easily accomplish the same feat without embarrassing any sponsors or tournaments, no?

Posted on: September 2, 2010 3:31 pm
Edited on: September 2, 2010 3:32 pm

Deutsche extends for a deuce after all

NORTON, Mass. -- Putting to rest whispers that had turned into open conjecture about the tournament’s future, Deutsche Bank on Thursday extended its contract with the PGA Tour for another two years and will remains a Labor Day tradition in New England through 2012, when the current television deal expires.

“The Championship has been an instrumental part of our brand-building efforts over the past eight years and remains a critical part of our overall brand strategy,” Deutsche Bank CEO Seth Waugh said Thursday after playing in the pro-am with Tiger Woods.

The existing deal with the tour was set to expire when the tournament ends Monday. The bank has been a sponsor of the event since the tournament’s inception in 2003. Additionally, EMC Corporation, a Massachusetts-based firm, signed on as a local presenting sponsor and increased its previous stake in the event equation financially.

The tournament winners have included some of the biggest names in the game, including Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Vijay Singh.

Waugh has been relatively outspoken about the bang that sponsors get for their dollars, and admitted two years ago that he asked Commissioner Tim Finchem to stop annually hiking purses at sponsor expense, even though it was technically permitted in contracts that had been signed. Last year, Waugh noted that since his house isn’t worth nearly as much as it was two years ago, why is the price of his tour contract?

But in the end, Waugh made the numbers work, this time with some help from EMC.

Finchem was on hand for the Deutsche Bank announcement Thursday and then flew to Columbus, Ohio, where an announcement was planned Friday, possibly relating to a new corporate namesake for the Memorial Tournament, which has had issues with presenting sponsor Morgan Stanley.


Category: Golf
Posted on: March 15, 2010 4:29 pm
Edited on: March 15, 2010 4:31 pm

Finchem leaves 'em hanging on Tiger, too

ORLANDO, Fla. -- PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem reiterated Monday that he doesn't have any details about when Tiger Woods, his franchise player, will return to tournament play, and he made it clear that he isn't crazy about discussing the issue anymore, either.

In a national teleconference called to trumpet a contract expension with the sponsor of the Torrey Pines event outside San Diego, Farmers Insurance, the first question had everything to do with Woods and nothing to do with the sponsorship deal.

"Well, we have the general information that Tiger is preparing to play, and there's been a lot of speculation about when he might come back out," Finchem said. "Tiger has indicated to us that he will give us reasonable notice, because we know we have got some preparation to do.

"I don't have the specific date when he’s going to come back, and I could only assume that all of the speculation about late March and early April, if he's going to start back then, we will know soon. Beyond that, I can't help you."

Call me reckless, but it hardly seems improper for the commissioner of the tour to ask his No. 1 player what his future plans are, just for the sake of logistics, fan expediency, or the fact that TV pays a gazillions dollars to show his product and might want some lead time to prepare. Finchem is seemingly getting his updates from reading the newspapers, too? Money needlessly expended for security comes out oif the charitable bottom line.

Evidently, Finchem has not bothered to inquire, again letting Woods leave tournaments in the dark. Nope, the commissioner has instead put the onus on tournament officials to get ready for Woods return, though nobody in the Woods camp has publicly stated when or where that will happen. They are scrambling around at Defcon 5 levels, possibly for naught.

A source involved in Bay Hill's security preparations described the uncertainty on Monday thusly, "a freaking mess is right."

"We have a plan for -- it varies," Finchem said. "Every site in golf is different, the capacity to handle media. I think media is the biggest mover. Most of our tournaments sell out from a ticket standpoint, anyway. I think the media accommodation is the big factor, and you know, how that happens depends week-to-week on which tournaments we are talking about. We saw a huge influx of media here for Tiger's statement three for four weeks ago.

"We had to create an off-site accommodation for the number of media. And, you know, there's a possibility that in certain places we would have to do that, because we can only accommodate so much media. But it will be different. We will know in advance. We will get the word out. As far as a statement goes, we announced it two days in advance, and we had plenty of media here. So it won't be a problem in terms of letting everybody know what accommodations will be made, but we'll be prepared."

Undaunted, an Orlando television outlet continued to press Finchem for information on when Woods would announce his intentions. Finchem seemed to grow testy, and perhaps with good reason. The perception is that the world No. 1 does whatever he wants and tells Finchem, instead of the reverse.

"I'm not going to get into that," he said tersely. "What I've indicated is that we are going to have advance notice, and we are going to be in my view comfortable with the notice we have. We already have done contingency planning at a number of weeks of the tour. So we will be prepared, and as soon as he tells us, you'll know."
Category: Golf
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