Tim Finchem: It’s Always Sunny on the PGA Tour
By Stephanie Wei under General

After announcing on Monday the lockdown of a title sponsor for next week’s tournament, which will now be called the Farmers Insurance Open, the PGA Tour started Tuesday with more good news — the addition of a Fall Series event, the RSM McGladery Open hosted by Davis Love III.

In Tuesday’s teleconference, Commissioner Tim Finchem kicked off the call with cheery, upbeat adjectives about the announcement, like “delighted,” “excited” and “quality.” Because we know how fired up everyone gets about golf in October (notwithstanding the Ryder Cup).

But given the dreary economy these days, it appears the Tour is recovering rather nicely:

We are done. We have a full schedule. The upshot of that schedule is that the total playing opportunities for our players are consistent with the last couple years. Our prize money this year will be up slightly over 2009, and based on these announcements and also the final performance we’re seeing in our first-quarter events, we see our charity numbers now rebounding back into that $116 [million], $118 [million] area for 2010.

To my understanding, the moderator politely requested reporters to ask McGladery-related questions only. Translation: Do not cross-examine Finchem about Tiger and/or his whereabouts.

One clever individual found a legitimate loophole:

Q. Tim, there have been a lot of kind of doom-and-gloom articles, media coverage, about with Tiger away, TV ratings are going to take a big hit, and that that’s — I was just wondering if you might be able to explain why that’s kind of a short-sighted view.

And the long-winded response:

COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, I’ve answered this question before, but I think that there’s a misperception about our business model for one thing. People think because Tiger spikes ratings, which he does, and spikes interest, which he certainly does, that if he’s not playing, it just doesn’t work. And I’ve actually been answering the same question not since November but really for the last 13 years, because we’ve averaged about 47 tournaments a year on the PGA TOUR. In those years Tiger has averaged playing about 17. That leaves 30 events. And those events have grown in the last 13 years exponentially. They’ve actually grown at a higher percentage basis than the events that Tiger basically plays in.

[…Blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada…]

TV ratings dropped 50% from ‘08 in ‘07 in the tournaments Tiger missed while recovering from knee surgery.

But week in and week out, the PGA TOUR provides value, and as C.E. [Andrews, McGladery’s CEO,] indicated earlier, in this case we’ve got a great venue, a great group of players involved already, a great golf course, a great time of year to play. If you’re smart, you can put together a tournament that really generates value for all the stakeholders. And that’s been our experience.

Uhh…again, golf in October. And I love Davis Love, and Zach Johnson seems like a good guy, but compared to watching Tiger or Phil? Yeah, b-o-r-i-n-g.

We just had Tiger out for eight months in ‘08, and we had our all-time record charity year at $125 million. Everybody just needs to keep it in balance. We want our No. 1 player back. I think he’s going to be huge when he comes back. But he’s doing the right thing right now in dealing with his issues as he said he wanted to.

So, does that mean you know how he’s dealing with them? Wait, what happened to those TV ratings again? And also that was before the economy really went kapooey.

But hey, I get it — it’s the Commissioner’s job to play down the likely financial effects. With such conviction, too! The Tour might encounter more trouble in the long term if he really believes the status quo will indefinitely suffice, though. Especially since marquee players competing overseas for appearance fees in lieu of Tour events appears to be a growing trend. Anthony Kim opens his 2010 season at the Abu Dhabi Championship this week instead of the Bob Hope Classic.

Perhaps Finchem is banking on Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler to reach their potential right away. Or AK will hate the Middle East and defer a million bucks going forward. Or Tiger and Phil will start playing 25 tournaments a year. Or Tiger will return by the spring. All possible scenarios. Still, there’s enough doubt to cast more concern than Finchem wants — or is willing — to openly disclose.