It was almost a year ago that Tim Finchem was named commissioner
of the PGA Tour, a selection that surprised few but drew loud
criticism from the ranks. Finchem had been a loyal No. 2 to his
predecessor, Deane Beman, for five years and was widely perceived
as a house guy. Under Beman's two decades of leadership, the Tour
had become a tightly wound, defensive institution, and the
appointment of Finchem -- who has the same trim figure, compact
stature and icy visage as Beman, unaffectionately nicknamed BB
Eyes -- promised more of the same.
Beman was also called, sarcastically, the Czar of Golf. As an
empire builder who was obsessed with making the U.S. men's Tour
the center of the sport worldwide, he won more often than he lost
and, inevitably, made enemies. But his visionary thinking and
aggressive style brought title sponsorship, stadium golf and
fail-safe television contracts to the Tour, constructing a
foundation that is the envy of every other pro sport.
Now, after 10 months on the job, Finchem has revealed himself as
more than a Beman clone. He has laid his attractive personal style
on top of Beman's foundation, and the combination is working so
well that the golf world may soon call Finchem czar, but without
Finchem, a 47-year-old lawyer who was a deputy adviser for
economic affairs under President Carter in the late 1970s, became
the Tour's deputy commissioner in 1990. As a classic righthand
man, Finchem had a reputation as a henchman who did the dirty
work, informing players when they were being fined, or hitting up
sponsors for higher purses.
Keenly aware of the negative perception of himself and the Tour --
as well as the widely held feeling among players that Beman had
grown distant and secretive -- Finchem made it his first priority
as commissioner to talk face-to-face with every player and
sponsor. Although Finchem does not have Beman's mastery of the
fine points of the game, he is a low-handicap amateur who can hang
with the pros on a practice tee. More important, he is a
communicator, a former Virginia state high school debating
champion who doesn't feel threatened by disagreement and who uses
plain English to explain complicated matters.
Extending an olive branch, Finchem showed up at last year's
Solheim Cup -- the team competition between the U.S. and European
women's pro tours. It was a gesture of goodwill toward the LPGA,
and it also soothed Karsten Solheim, who had been bitterly at odds
with the Tour because of Beman's ill- fated decision to ban
square-grooved irons. Finchem has worked to improve his
relationship with one of golf's biggest power brokers, the
International Management Group, whose founder, Mark McCormack,
never missed a chance to criticize Beman over what he felt was an
isolationist approach to the U.S. Tour. And the new commissioner
even wrote a conciliatory letter last summer to comedian Bill
Murray, whom Beman had criticized for his behavior at the AT&T
Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Finchem's fence-mending paid high dividends last November when
the Tour was blindsided by Greg Norman's announcement of an
independent, new World Golf Tour. The new commissioner took a hard
line against the fledgling tour, just as Beman surely would have.
But what was surprising was the way players, sponsors and leaders
of other organizations almost unanimously got in line to support
What was most impressive was the way Finchem used his strength.
While he knew it was important to squash the World Tour, he didn't
want to embarrass Norman in the process. He flew cross country for
a meeting with Norman, gave him a graceful way out and then went
back to playing hardball with the organizers of the World Tour.
And at Sawgrass last Wednesday -- presiding at a press conference
with the leaders of the pro tours in Europe, South Africa,
Australasia and Japan -- Finchem announced the formation of the
World Forum of PGA Tours, to promote the kind of international
events the World Tour was proposing.
``Tim beat Greg up, but he did it so smoothly that Greg didn't
feel a thing,'' said one admiring observer. ``With Deane, it might
have been a bloodbath.''
To Beman power meant domination. To Finchem increased power lies
in partnership. As Beman said last week at a dinner in his honor,
``I think I was the right man for my time, and I know Tim Finchem
is the right man for today.''
Ever the good soldier, Finchem was quick to return the
compliment. ``Deane brought so much perspective and had so many
ideas,'' he said. ``I miss him.''
The fact is, Finchem is doing such a good job, he's the only one
COLOR PHOTO:ROBERT BECK [Tim Finchem]