(Reuters) – Tim Finchem says he regrets that the PGA Tour has not expanded more globally during his long tenure as commissioner, while at the same time he is confident that golf has cemented its place in the Olympic Games.
Speaking on Tuesday ahead of this week’s season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, Finchem addressed a variety of issues in his final formal news conference after just over 22 years as boss of the U.S.-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 U.S.
But hopes of creating a quasi-world tour featuring tournaments everywhere from Sydney to Seoul and Santiago have fallen through amid the realities of American television demands and other factors.
Nonetheless, 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 that 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.”
Finchem also weighed into the debate over where Woods belongs in the pantheon of all-time golfing greats.
Woods, who is planning a PGA Tour return next month after more than a year out following back surgeries, has won 14 major championships, second only to the record 18 by Jack Nicklaus.
“I love Jack Nicklaus beyond belief but I have to put Tiger down as probably the greatest player to ever play,” said Finchem.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)