Tim Finchem’s parting shot puts European Tour on alert

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said he regrets not being able to make progress on making a single global tour — a statement that will be watched with interest by the European Tour.

Speaking ahead of this week’s season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, Finchem, who is to step down from the role at the end of the season, addressed a variety of issues in his final formal news conference after just over 22 years as boss of the US-based circuit.

Asked about his regrets as he prepares to step down at the end of the year, he spoke of only one, not quite invoking Frank Sinatra’s famous line of “too few to mention” though he came very close.

“The one regret would be thus far I haven’t been able to make a little more progress on the global effort,” said Finchem, who was appointed commissioner in 1994, shortly before Tiger Woods enrolled at Stanford University on a golf scholarship.

“We’ve done a lot of great things globally. I would have liked to have seen a little bit more acceleration there but... there were other factors at work that impacted that situation globally.”

Under Finchem’s watch, the PGA Tour has created the Presidents Cup — a biennial Ryder Cup-style event pitting the United States against an International team of players from the rest of the world excluding Europe — and has staged a few tournaments outside the US.

But hopes of creating a quasi-world tour featuring tournaments everywhere from Sydney to Seoul and Santiago have fallen through amid the realities of US television demands and other factors.

Rumors of a possible merger with the PGA Tour and European Tour have been rife in recent months.

Finchem remains bullish about the tour’s international prospects under the next commissioner, Jay Monahan.

“It’s just so obvious the benefits it would generate for players and fans and media partners and sponsors,” he said. “I think it’ll happen. We’ll see if the new team can kick it down the alley a little quicker.”

Finchem also spoke about a conversation he had at last month’s Rio Games with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach during the final round of the men’s competition as golf returned to the Olympics after an absence of more than a century.

“I think we were the only sport that was a sold-out venue that particular day,” Finchem, 69, said. “He (Bach) was blown away by the galleries.”

Finchem said he and Bach were both confident the high number of elite player absentees from the men’s golf in Rio, due primarily to cited fears of the Zika virus, would not be repeated in Tokyo in 2020, after which golf’s re-inclusion in the Olympics will be revisited.

“Just ask the players who did go,” said Finchem. “It was a game changer in their minds. It’s going to be a big event in Japan and I think golf is there (in the Olympics) for the long term.

“(There are) 85 countries where the government invests money in sports but only sports that are on the Olympic programme, so those are 85 countries that haven’t had government funding before and now they’re getting it.”

Meanwhile, former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley expects the six rookies in this year’s team to draw on their international experience to thrive under pressure in next week’s match against the US.

US Masters champion Danny Willett, Chris Wood, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Andy Sullivan, and Matt Fitzpatrick, along with wildcard pick Thomas Pieters, will be making their Ryder Cup debuts when Europe defend the trophy in Minnesota.

“The European team have six rookies heading to Hazeltine, but I don’t think that will be an issue or a concern,” McGinley, who led Europe to victory two years ago, told Sky Sports.

“They are all experienced players, they’ve all won big tournaments, and they have all performed on the big stage... They are young, vibrant and they will not be intimidated by the atmosphere of a Ryder Cup in the United States,” he added.

Captain Darren Clarke will be looking to guide Europe to an unprecedented fourth consecutive Ryder Cup victory.

“They are part of a team and Darren will be making sure they don’t lose their focus,” McGinley said. “Don’t play the occasion, play the game of golf.”

World number three Rory McIlroy has had an inconsistent year but McGinley said the Co Down man’s win at this month’s Deutsche Bank Championship was a big boost for the European team.

“He (McIlroy) is Europe’s highest-ranked player and we all know how talented he is. Apart from winning the Irish Open, he’s had a quiet year, particularly on the PGA Tour and in the major championships,” the 49-year-old said.

“But he addressed the problems he was having with his putting, hired a new coach and that was validated with his win in Boston,” McGinley added. “It has given him a lot of confidence and I think we’ll see a buoyant and energised Rory McIlroy at the Ryder Cup.”

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