Commissioners Finchem, Bivens endured busy '06
For Tim Finchem and Carolyn Bivens, this is a good week to say thanks. Not simply because a national holiday looms for just such a purpose, but because their respective golf seasons are complete. They can be thankful that 2006 is over, and that better days, conceivably, lay ahead in 2007.
Nobody ever said that being the commissioner of the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour was an easy job. Then again, nobody ever said it would be as tough as it was this year.
Bivens had inherent problems, simply because the LPGA Tour always is going to fight a bigger battle for recognition and exposure. But the first-year commissioner didn't make life any easier for herself with various issues, including a squabble with media outlets over the use of their material, several staff defections and disputes with several tournaments.
And yet, there were several topics in 2006 on which Finchem took a stand, only to reverse field a short time later. The BMW Championship, drug testing and the FedEx Cup playoffs were all hot-button issues, ones with seemingly obvious outcomes that appeared anything but to the commissioner and his staff.
Finchem and the folks at tour headquarters appeared stunned, for example, that anyone would have a problem with moving the long-running Western Open out of Chicago every other year. It's bad enough that a tournament dating to 1899 will no longer be called the Western Open. Instead we now have the BMW Championship, one of the FedEx Cup playoff events, and that is set to leave the nation's third-largest market every other year starting in 2008. The backlash was so great that Finchem said the decision is being reconsidered, although it is too late in the short term.
As for drug testing, Finchem maintained there was no need for a policy.
"I have no evidence of players taking steroids in this sport," Finchem said. "What I do have is a firm belief that when our players understand the rules, they follow the rules."
Only after Tiger Woods came out in favor of testing -- "Tomorrow would be fine by me," he said in September. "I just think we should be proactive instead of reactive." -- and the heat got turned up did Finchem acknowledge that a "comprehensive" look would be taken at the subject. Last week, after the LPGA Tour announced that it would be implementing a plan for 2008, the PGA Tour released a statement saying it was still studying the issue.
Then there is the FedEx Cup fiasco. Any sports fan realizes that a playoff system's drama stems from the lose-and-go home nature of the proceedings. And yet, when Finchem repeatedly was questioned about the absurdity of playoff events that did not eliminate anyone, he said at the Tour Championship, "We have determined to stay the course with what was presented, because it gets pretty confusing through the first year. And then we probably will make some tweaks."
Those tweaks came a little more than a week later, when the PGA Tour Policy Board decided it would be better to cut those playoff fields, from 144 to 120 to 70 to 30 for the Tour Championship. Starting with 144 is still too many, but this is a start.
Bivens got off to a poor start by challenging media outlets on their rights to use their own work. Instead of celebrating a slew of young players and Michelle Wie's presence in her home state of Hawaii back in February, several publications did not even cover the event, shifting the focus away from the course.
Things did not get much better for Bivens, as she saw several LPGA employees resign -- some of whom she hired -- and got into public spats with several tournaments over their dates and/or staging fees.
Ultimately, some of what Bivens sought to accomplish might prove to be correct. The fees tournaments paid, for example, were said to be woefully inadequate. Remember, we're talking about a tour that does not reap huge television money and has to dock its own players a percentage of purses in order to exist.
And yet, there was a feeling that such goals could have been accomplished in a more gracious manner.
"The road wasn't without some bumps," Bivens said last week at the ADT Championship. "But we came into this knowing change wasn't easy."
No doubt, Finchem and Bivens are relieved to move forward.
Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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