Thursday, January 29
Finchem: Tour still recognizes event

ATLANTA -- PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem refused to back down from his position on the Augusta National controversy, saying the tour will recognize the Masters as an official event and he expects his players to compete.

State of the Tour
Commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday the PGA Tour will have a fully sponsored schedule for 2003, although it might lose one opposite-field event in the fall.

He also announced the PGA Tour is changing the name of its 50-and-over circuit to the ''Champions Tour'' with hopes of appealing to a broader base of fans.

During his annual ''State of the Tour'' message, commissioner Tim Finchem said the Champions Tour would have at least three fewer tournaments to keep the seniors from playing the same weeks as major championships and other big events.

The developmental tour will change names for the fourth time since its inception in 1990. What was the Tour will be called the Nationwide Tour, reflecting a new five-year sponsorship deal.

The PGA Tour logo of a player swinging a golf club will be included in the branding of all three tours.

Finchem did not disclose any sponsorship deals for the PGA Tour, saying the 2003 schedule would be announced after the tour's board meeting next month. More ...

That brought a sharp reply from the National Council of Women's Organizations, whose leader accused Finchem of ''stonewalling'' on the issue of Augusta's all-male membership.

''If I were his board, I would be asking who he works for: Augusta or the PGA Tour?'' Martha Burk said Wednesday. ''Clearly, the position he has taken is going to be an apologist for Augusta.''

Burk has accused the PGA Tour of creating a double standard by counting the Masters among its official events, even though the tour has a policy not to hold tournaments on courses that discriminate.

In an Aug. 20 letter to Burk, Finchem said the tour does not have a contract with the club, cannot require Augusta National to follow tour rules and had no plans to stop recognizing the Masters as one of golf's four major championships.

During a 45-minute news conference at the season-ending Tour Championship, Finchem declined to elaborate beyond the letter or be drawn further into the debate over whether Augusta National should admit a female member.

''As far as I know, there's going to be a tournament at Augusta -- the Masters -- and it's going to be on CBS television, and our players are going to go play,'' Finchem said. ''What else happens, I'm not going to speculate on that.''

At one point he said, ''I know you're going to try to move me out of the confines of my statement. You're not going to be successful.''

Later, Finchem told a group of reporters he was comfortable with the tour's position.

''It is a position based on the evaluation of all factors,'' he said.

The PGA Tour controls 45 tournaments a year, although it doesn't run any of the four majors -- the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open or the PGA Championship.

It considers them as official events, and counts money earned toward the PGA Tour money list. Winners of the four majors received a five-year exemption on tour.

The tour stopped playing its events at male-only clubs in 1990, eliminating Cypress Point from the rotation at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and leaving Butler National at the Western Open outside Chicago.

Some of the players rallied behind Finchem.

Former PGA champion David Toms said while he thought Finchem could be more vocal, the commissioner should not stop counting the Masters as official.

''That would be totally giving in to this liberal cause,'' Toms said. ''We made a stance several years ago when we stopped going to clubs that discriminate. We've made our case on what we believe. Augusta National can take care of this.''

Charles Howell III, who grew up about five miles from Augusta National, said the tour should focus on its own events.

''The tour's job is to run golf tournaments for us,'' he said.

Burk said her next stop might be the corporate sponsors of PGA Tour events, such as Coca-Cola, the presenting sponsor of the Tour Championship.

''As a tour sponsor, they have an obligation to take a stand,'' Burk said. ''They're sponsoring an organization that puts forth one set of principles and acts on another. If I were a sponsor, I would seriously question that.''

Tournament sponsors are meeting this weekend at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson dropped the Masters' television sponsors two months ago to keep them out of the fray, leading to the only commercial-free broadcast of a sporting event on network television.

The PGA Tour is far more dependent on its corporate sponsors, which help foot the bill for the massive prize money.

Finchem said he would not discuss any conversations he has had with sponsors, nor would he speculate on what might happen if they got involved.

''I'm not going to react to hypothetical situations, and that's what you're suggesting,'' Finchem said. ''If situations arise, we'll deal with them.''

Burk said if the tour were to drop the Masters as one of its official events, that would put more pressure on Augusta to admit a female member.

''More importantly, it would put the PGA Tour on record of standing behind the principles that it claims to have,'' she said.

Finchem: Tour schedule will be fully sponsored in '03

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 Masters Mayhem
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem refuses to speculate on Augusta matters.
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