When Tim Finchem retired in 2017 after 22 years as PGA TOUR commissioner, he had transformed the game and its relationship with fans on the course, watching on TV, watching on portable devices, and, yes, the computer at the office for the diehards who want to watch golf play from sunrise to sunset.
He introduced the FedEx Cup Playoffs, offering the sport a greater sense of an actual season. The Presidents Cup gave the sport another great international competition. And the World Golf Championships created greater opportunities for international golfers to compete together beyond the majors. And the 1997 rights deal he negotiated changed the relationship between TV and golf forever as it required every round of every tournament be carried on TV.
“The most impressive thing about Tim is he was a remarkable consensus builder,” says Sean McManus, CBS Sports, chairman. “His relationships with the players, with the tournaments, with the sponsors, and TV networks were all first rate where everyone felt like they were getting full value.”
He also spearheaded efforts to coordinate the bid for golf’s return to the Olympics, which became a reality in the 2016 Games after a 112-year absence and gave NBC a chance to bring one of its most important rest-of-the-year properties to its Olympic programming schedule.
“Tim Finchem super-charged the PGA TOUR during his tenure as commissioner by adding World Golf Championships, the Presidents Cup, and the FedEx Playoffs,” says Molly Solomon, executive producer/president, NBC Olympics Production, and executive producer, Golf Channel. “What the PGA TOUR looks like today is due in large part to his big ideas and creative leadership.”
Adds Tommy Roy, NBC Sports, lead golf producer, credits Finchem with allowing NBC to have more than a dozen cameras on the island green for THE PLAYERS Championship, allowing the network to capture shots from almost any angle.
“He gave us the ability to put a camera six feet away from Tiger Woods when he was about to execute a magical, game winning shot,” he adds. “And he also gave us the ability to put microphones three feet away from Phil Mickelson and [caddie] Bones when they were discussing the execution of a great shot.”
Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Dick Ebersol says he was lucky enough to have a front row seat to Finchem’s efforts.
“Tim built the PGA Tour into one of the most important franchises in all of American TV sports,” he adds.
As if that weren’t enough, he helped oversee First Tee’s growth into a great youth-development organization, reaching more than 15 million youngsters (during his tenure as commissioner, the PGA TOUR and its tournaments raised more than $2 billion in charitable contributions).
“Tim Finchem’s vision and leadership have made an indelible impact on the game of golf over the past 25 years,” said Jay Monahan, PGA TOUR commissioner and World Golf Foundation board chairman, when Finchem was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year. “His enshrinement in the World Golf Hall of Fame will forever stand as a testament to his tireless dedication and contributions, but, more important, so will the countless lives — whether those are the players on the PGA TOUR and beyond, millions of First Tee participants, or charitable organizations around the world — impacted by his life’s work.”
Finchem became commissioner in 1994 when then-Commissioner Deane Beman, just 55 years old, retired to resume his playing career, this time as a member of the then-Senior PGA TOUR.
“My history is one of just being in the right place at the right time,” says Finchem. “So much of where you’re headed is based on the individuals that you’re interfacing with.”
For example, prior to joining the PGA TOUR, Finchem was in the Jimmy Carter Administration, working with the president and his staff.
“I’ve had a great run with regard to being around people who are extremely successful and thoughtful and committed to making this place a better place to live,” he says. “I look back at all those people I met and the players that I interfaced with, and I was very, very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.” One example: he became commissioner only a few weeks before a player named Tiger Woods turned professional.
And the beginning of the Woods era and the beginning of Finchem’s tenure as commissioner coincided with a time when some of the greats of the game had retired but were still an active part of the PGA efforts.
“I was lucky,” Finchem says, “because I came into the PGA TOUR at a time when I had the opportunity to meet Sam Snead and Byron Nelson and all these great players and spend a fair amount of time with them. In some ways, many of those players were similar to working with the president because of their knowledge of the sport, their intensity about transferring that information to fans and to people like myself.”
Finchem always had a passion for golf and freely admits to using his paper-route money to support his golf habit.
“My dad was in the Marine Corps for 30 years, and I started playing golf when I was 8 or 10,” he says. “He took me to the Azalea Open in North Carolina; Arnold Palmer won, and I was mesmerized by him. Years later, I’d call him up from time to time and say, Take me through one of your wins. He’d say, Which one? and I’d tell him that one.”
Although nearly half his adult life has been spent at the PGA TOUR, Finchem didn’t set out to work in sports administration. He attended the University of Richmond on a debate scholarship and graduated in 1969, then received his law degree from Virginia four years later. After practicing law in Virginia Beach for three years, Finchem served in the Carter White House as deputy advisor to the president in the Office of Economic Affairs in 1978 and 1979.
“Tim’s leadership was invaluable for the growth of the game,” says Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer and CBS Sports Lead Play-by-Play Announcer Jim Nantz. “His thoughtful decision-making helped the PGA TOUR soar to incredible heights. He led his global partners in promoting and implementing a World Golf Championship series, and, here at home, he brought life to the PGA TOUR’s end of the season. Lastly, Tim saw the value of nurturing and respecting his television relationships. He has been viewed by all as a great partner.”