Finchem used Norman’s revolt to consolidate his power
HOUSTON (AP) _ To put it in golf terms, Tim Finchem closed out Greg Norman early on the back nine. The confrontation to see who would handle the purse strings of a lucrative world golf tour was never a contest.
Norman got the early advantage when he blind-sided the PGA Tour commissioner with his plan for the World Tour in 1994, but Finchem crushed what threatened to be a lengthy legal challenge with shocking suddenness.
The final blow came Wednesday at the Tour Championship here when Finchem _ speaking for the five major PGA tours of the world _ announced the creation of three $4 million World Golf Championship events in 1999 and a fourth the following year.
Just like that, wealth undreamed of even by Norman three years ago when he led a breakaway challenge to the PGA Tour was handed to the best players in the world by Finchem, with the commissioner unquestionably in charge.
The World Tour came to golf last week and the center of the world was clearly in Finchem’s office in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and not in Norman’s Great White Shark Enterprises headquarters down the coast in Tequestra.
``You know, I understand why it happened a couple of years ago, why people, separate groups, weren’t all for it,″ Norman said Wednesday, struggling to contain his anger as he acknowledged that Finchem had taken his idea and run with it.
``I think there is only one word for it,″ Norman said, ``and that word is control. Now control is there, in their mind, and let them have it, let them go with it, let them see what they can do.″
Control was clearly the issue in 1994 when Norman, John D. Montgomery Jr. of Executive Sports, a Florida-based firm that runs some tournaments, and Fox Sports announced a World Tour that guaranteed the top-30 players in the world a minimum of $290,000 a year.
``This is about 30 years overdue,″ Norman said at the time.
The plan then called for eight events held in the United States, Canada, Scotland, Spain and Japan with 30 players selected based on world rankings and 10 additional players given exemptions.
Each event would have had a $3 million purse with $600,000 going to the winner and $30,000 guaranteed to the last-place finisher. There would have been a $1 million bonus to the player of the year, and each competing player would get a $50,000-a-year travel allowance.
At the time, the $600,000 first-place money was more than twice that offered in the average tour event. The three new events announced last week by Finchem will have a first prize of at least $720,000.
``Everybody I’ve spoken to _ Nick Price, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal _ all the responses have been extremely positive,″ Norman had said.
Within days, however, it was clear than no one was rushing to jump on the Norman bandwagon. Finchem had made it clear that anyone playing on the World Tour would be walking away from the PGA Tour.
``If a new tour becomes a reality in 1995 or thereafter, our members will have to decide whether they want to continue to play on the PGA Tour or play on a new tour,″ Finchem said at the time.
The commissioner said he would enforce the ``conflicting events″ rules requiring players to get his permission to play in outside events, and Finchem said the PGA would go to court to defend those rules.
``This is not dissimilar from the decision professional athletes in other sports were forced to make when competing leagues were formed,″ Finchem said.
Just like that, the World Tour had a plan, money and a TV deal with Fox _ but it had no players.
Everyone backed off, even Norman. But it was clear Norman resented Finchem for the power play, and he used whatever opportunity he could to show his displeasure.
Last year, Norman showed up a day late at the Tour Championship, missing the pro-am used to entertain high-roller backers of the PGA Tour. He was the only player who didn’t stay around for the rain-delayed final round on Monday.
Norman also started this year with a snub of the tour, skipping the Mercedes Championships. He was the only one of the 1996 tournament winners to skip the event.
Finchem and Norman both always denied there was any bad blood between them. But Finchem made it clear who was in charge and Norman was still feeling the sting when he saw Finchem modify the World Tour idea and present it as his own.
``I took a lot of heat and a lot of criticism early on,″ Norman said Wednesday. ``The arrows can hopefully now come out of my back and we can all go forward.″
Finchem tried to smooth things as best he could by recognizing Norman’s contribution to the new events.
``I want to thank Greg for his continued involvement and commitment,″ Finchem said. ``I think he’s had a positive influence.″
Norman, however, clearly wants everyone to remember that if it were not for his rebellion three years ago, the World Golf Championships likely would not have come to be _ at least not this quickly.
``I think it goes to show that I had the foresight, I had the knowledge of what makes the players tick, what makes the game of golf tick and what people are looking for,″ said Norman, who called Finchem’s plan a ``mirror image of what I proposed three years ago.″
Surely, there were tweaks in the World Tour plan from 1994 and what Finchem and the four other tours came up with. But the ultimate change was exactly what Norman pointed out _ control.
And the answer to that was clear this week at the Champions Golf Club. Tim Finchem and the PGA Tour are in control of world golf.