On the Hot Seat: Rick George
A few things you should know about Champions Tour president Rick George:
• As a defensive back on the University of Illinois football team, he played in 44 consecutive games.
• Those who work under him often call him "Ricky G." To his face.
• At 47, he's still three years away from being able to qualify for his own tour.
• Don't worry. We've seen him play and he's not going to qualify for his own tour.
Oh, and one other thing about Rick George: He just might be one of the most powerful people in golf you've never heard of.
George sat down on ESPN.com's Hot Seat recently to discuss the appeal of the Champions Tour, issues surrounding it and his own future job prospects.
Q: What is the state of the Champions Tour right now?
A: The state of the Champions Tour is we're in a real solid position, really poised to have a great future. We're in terrific shape.
Q: Are there ways to make the tour more appealing for both die-hard and casual fans?
A: Well, we think we're doing that with the fan initiatives that we have and the quality of the names of the players. We feel pretty good about where we're at today.
A: Well, we just look at everything critically. The thing that we don't want to do is just add something to add it. We want to make sure that it vets itself in the market and it's something that's going to help grow this tour.
Q: How important is it for the tour to have big names and fan favorites like Jay Haas, Fred Funk and Mark O'Meara take up membership in recent years?
A: I think it's really important. I would argue today that this tour has more name recognition than any tour, because of the quality of the players -- 15 World Golf Hall of Fame members, and I can go through a cadre of players that people love to see, the Watsons, the Kites, the Zoellers, the Stadlers, the Jacobsens. I mean, there's just name after name after name of quality players on this tour.
Q: The list of guys you have coming up in the next few years includes names like Tom Lehman, Kenny Perry and Fred Couples. Who's the one guy you're most excited about seeing out here?
A: Well, all of them, really, but the one that I think is going to have a significant impact on the tour would be Fred Couples. He's just a fan favorite for a lot of people, and we think when he comes out, he'll have a big impact on the continued growth of this tour.
Q: PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem's current contract expires in 2012. Your name has been mentioned as his successor. Is that something you'd be open to?
A: Well, I'm just happy doing what I'm doing, and it's flattering, but I think a lot of Tim and everything he's done for the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour. My aspiration is just to continue doing what I'm doing and do it better.
Q: When the time arises, is it something you'd be interested in?
A: You know, if I'm still doing what I'm doing, then yes. But who knows what the future holds.
Q: Finchem recently stated that a drug-testing policy is imminent on the PGA Tour. Would this policy also carry over to the Champions Tour?
A: Yes, we'll have a consistent policy with the PGA Tour, and I know the PGA Tour is working with the other golf tours. Whatever is determined, the Champions Tour will be right in the fold.
Q: Now, I'll have to put this delicately, but there may be Champions Tour players who are on different medications than some PGA Tour players. Is there going to have to be a revised list of substances for your tour?
A: Well, I think they'll look at all of that very critically as they're vetting this out -- and again, it's being done in concert with other tours, so I'm sure it's something that will be standardized.
Q: Last year, you overturned a rule that banned the use of carts on tour; now carts are allowed except for majors, pro-ams and a select few other events. How has that been received by players?
A: I think the players are generally OK with it. I have my opinions, but the tour continues to get better and we're just going to continue to focus on the things we do well.
Q: Tell me about the upcoming 2008 schedule. How is it different? What's going to change? What are you looking forward to?
A: The biggest difference is adding Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic. It's going to be a great event. It's going to be a nice two-week swing there with them and the Ginn Championship at Hammock Beach. It doesn't change much. We'll still have our obvious weeks off. A couple of our majors are bunched together, which we're not thrilled with, but it is what it is. And then we moved the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am to an April date, because it allows us more time for that kind of format that we're in. So, other than that, there's very little changes. We start our year at the MasterCard Championship in Hualalai and we end in Sonoma, and in between there are just a couple of changes here and there, but pretty consistent to where we've been.
Q: With bye weeks on tour, do you feel like you lose some momentum or is it beneficial to let the players get some rest during those weeks?
A: No, I don't think we lose momentum. I think we lost momentum when we had three or four weeks off in between and that was the case a couple of years ago. We don't have that anymore. I think a week off is better for us because what we're doing, essentially, is guaranteeing great fields at each of our events, and that's helping us grow our fan base and our name recognition around the country.
Q: There was talk a few years ago about maybe lowering the age minimum to 45 on the Champions Tour. Is that something that is still being looked at, and will it be looked at in the future?
A: No, I don't think that's something that we need for this tour right now. We've got great names coming out each and every year, and guys are competitive on both tours, and I don't think it behooves us to move in that direction.
Q: OK, I'm a golf fan; I can budget, say, one hour of time to watching golf on a Saturday afternoon. Tell me why I'm watching the Champions Tour.
A: Well, you're watching the Champions Tour because we do things different. There's interaction between the fans and the players, there's on-course interviews, we allow people in the gallery to be part of the honorary observer program. We try to do a lot of things differently than they would do in a normal broadcast.
Q: Rick George, you're off the Hot Seat.
A: Great. Thanks, Jason.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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