Perhaps Finchem should worry

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- To hear Tim Finchem tell it, everything is just peachy in his world.

Night before last, at a dinner attended by player representatives, the PGA Tour announced that it had extended the commissioner's contract until he turns 65, six years from now.

"Nobody booed," Finchem said yesterday, "so at least some people don't mind having me around."

That may change. Finchem is the author of a massive upheaval in how the PGA Tour conducts its business. Starting next year, the face of the tour will change dramatically. Generations-old tournaments will be moving to new dates and some will be wiped right off the map.

There are some winners in those changes, and some losers. Count the Canadian Open in that latter group. After years of asking for a summer date, the RCGA finally gets to move to July from its September slot. Problem is, the slot is the week after the British Open, which is almost a death knell for the 102-year-old event.

They can pretty much kiss all the top players goodbye. For starters, few of them will want to play because of the travel. And if that isn't enough of a deterrent there is the fact that the week after the Canadian Open is a World Golf Championship event, followed a week later by the PGA Championship. Most of the tour elite are not going to play four weeks in a row. And guess which tournament they'll all be passing? But that's just one of dozens of issues Finchem must face in the next few years.

Meanwhile, Finchem seems obsessed with turning The Players Championship, which starts today, into something more than the "unofficial fifth major" that it is right now.

As soon as the 2006 Players is in the books, massive changes to the Stadium Course at Sawgrass are planned. They're not making any design changes in the course but they're replacing every blade of grass and much of the foundation under the ground, including subterranean vacuums under every green.

In addition, they're going to raze the 25-year-old clubhouse and replace it with one twice the size.

The renovations will be ready well ahead of next year's new date in the first week of May, which serves the PGA Tour's purpose of setting the Players apart from the Masters.

It always has rankled the honchos at the PGA Tour that The Players often is referred to as a "good tuneup" for the Masters, in the first weeks of April.

Indeed, just about everything the tour said about its own changes seems to be exactly opposite to what the guys in the green jackets are doing.

Augusta National has added more than 700 yards of length during the past 10 years. Sawgrass has added no length.

"We're not excited about the changes in the golf course being the story at any time," Finchem said. "We want the golf course and the history of the golf course to be the story and not that myself or some group of people decided it needed change."

Where Augusta's changes appear to have reduced the number of players capable of winning there to those who can hit the ball out of sight, the PGA Tour's philosophy has been to maintain a golf course where any of its players can win.

"We recognize that the fans like watching this field play this golf course. We have to be sensitive to that as we consider any changes at all. We like the fact that we have the deepest field in the game and virtually every one of those players can win."

Could the PGA Tour be angling to usurp the Masters as the marquee early-season event? Since the Masters is one of those rare events that transcends its own sport, that's a tall order.

"Stature is something that we don't determine," Finchem said. "At some time in the '50s, stature meant calling the Masters a major. At some point along the way, the Western Open, which had been called a major, wasn't called a major anymore. So these things move around."

Finchem should be most nervous about the success or failure of the new FedEx Cup playoff series that begins in 2007 as a way to jazz up the golf season. It still isn't clear that the players themselves will embrace this concept in the way Finchem hopes they will.

Not to worry, because the commish isn't. He has six more years to establish his legacy. And so far, nobody's booing. As far as he knows.


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