Inside the Players Meeting at Torrey: It’s Always Sunny on the PGA Tour
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem gets ready to address 156 of his bosses

On Tuesday evening at Torrey Pines, Tiger Woods hadn’t arrived on the grounds yet, but the other 150-some players gathered together for the mandatory players meeting. Even though Tiger’s fallen from grace (and to No. 3 in the world rankings), he still doesn’t show up to bureaucratic-ordered time suckers. Some things never change! However, Phil Mickelson, who is often missing, managed to squeeze it in his schedule.

According to two PGA Tour members (separately) who wish to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, Tuesday’s gathering was unusually short and tame (it’s early in the season and most everyone is fat, rich and happy!). One player actually stayed awake for most of the meeting and gave me the rundown via the phone. Here are the highlights, some of which Commissioner Tim Finchem touched on during his chat with the press corps:

*Of course, Finchem opened with glowing remarks about the state of the PGA Tour. Unlike last year, the Tour spared the players of sitting through the long, boring (but important and interesting to some) review of last year’s financial performance.

*The meeting was shorter than usual because the suits didn’t discuss in detail the balance sheets and state of the company as a business entity, but they will return to giving the whole spiel next year (interesting with the timing of all the important contract renegotiation talks happening). But it was mentioned that purses overall increased slightly in the last year and charitable contributions continued to grow from 2009 to 2010 — the same is expected in 2011.

*Average purse an event totals $6.1 million this season, which amounts to the highest ever. Hooray! Shouldn’t that mean the media earns more, too?

*Finchem’s 2010 salary (and bonuses) will work out to slightly less than the $4.7 million he earned in 2009 (which triggered laughter and snickers at Quail Hollow last year), as was the case for all the administrative employees across the board. The actual figures were not revealed to the players on Tuesday.

*Zach Johnson’s three-year term as a Player Director on the PGA Tour Policy Board expires at the end of the year. Candidates on the ballot to replace Johnson are Scott Verplank, David Duval and Jim Furyk. Who would you vote for?

*AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson took the podium (which a few players said was the most compelling part of the evening, for what it’s worth) and imparted some interesting tidbits. He explained that AT&T sponsors the PGA Tour because it has the best viewer demographic for their business and it’s a high quality product. At the same time, Stephenson sees downside of the Tour as having an inconsistent product, meaning he does not know which players will play his events year-to-year or week-to-week. Like all sponsors, he wants the top guys playing his events more often.

*What does it take to receive an invitation to play in the AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am? At least $50 million. Stephenson said the company’s coveted spots are given to clients that bring in a minimum of $50 million a year of business to AT&T, with the majority generating $100 million. So that’s all it takes to get an invite to the Pebble Beach Pro-Am!

*Finchem addressed the recent rules controversies involving Camilo Villegas and Padraig Harrington, who were disqualified for signing incorrect scorecards after armchair rules officials called in violations they spotted via the telecast. Next week Finchem has an annual meeting scheduled with the USGA and he’s confident they will review the rule and work towards a resolution, but he’s unsure how and if it will actually be changed, obviously. He also reminded players to be extra conscious of their actions with regard to the rules, particularly because with all the technological advances, high-definition TVs can pick up things that the naked eye couldn’t catch.

*As you may have heard, the PGA Tour’s television contracts are up for renegotiation this year, with the exception of the Comcast-owned Golf Channel deal that’s locked through 2020. With Comcast acquiring NBC, the Tour will receive a lot of cross-branding and cross-marketing through the NBC networks, which will help with contract discussions. (CNBC meets golf’s target audience — white collar, upper middle class to upper class clientele.) All the FedEx Cup and PGA Tour spots aired on the Golf Channel will run on the NBC affiliates and give ratings a boost. Sunday’s final round at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua enjoyed a 38% increase in TV viewership, which may serve as an example of the trickle-down effect that Finchem mentioned.

*Currently, 16 tournaments have sponsors locked beyond 2014. With the exception of the Bob Hope Classic and Hilton Head, the remaining events are sold through 2012. As of right now, Finchem expressed “confidence with what’s in the pipeline” for both the sponsor-less tournaments. When the Tour enters TV talks with CBS and NBC this summer, all events will be fully sponsored through 2012. My curiosity is piqued!

*The Tour is currently negotiating with FedEx for the company to remain the title sponsor of the FedEx Cup beyond 2012. Finchem voiced confidence that FedEx will continue its backing of the $10 million playoff series, but he was evasive on the details.

*As always, your friendly commish reminder to censor make positive comments about the FedEx Cup and the PGA Tour during interviews!

*Unlike last year, there wasn’t a player that got all question-happy and decided to grind it out in the Q&A session. Only two questions were asked. First, Kevin Streelman inquired on the current status of FedEx as a sponsor and where it was headed. Finchem didn’t elaborate and stuck to the party line that negotiations were going well and he’s confident that FedEx will re-up.

*Second, J.J. Henry wondered if TV talks were restricted to CBS and NBC, which have existing contracts, or also open to networks not currently under contract, like ABC, ESPN and FOX. Finchem said FOX’s weekend coverage is heavily occupied by the NFL during the football season, but of course, the Tour welcomes the opportunity to form partnerships with those networks.

Well, I believe that’s all, folks. The biggest takeaway? Most players don’t pay attention in these meetings and Tim Finchem seeps with confidence — I guess he should since his record does speak for itself, but I can’t stand all that robot jibberish and the value-added crap. Anyway, let’s revisit the subject after the TV and sponsorship deals are locked up. I am curious as to what’s in store for the Hope and Hilton Head.

Strangely, no slow play complaints…publicly…yet. Where was Sabbo?!

(Photo by Bill Wechter via North County Times)