Golf insider offers rare insight on Tim Finchem
A few years ago, another person was frequently mentioned as a possible leader of the PGA Tour: former Deutsche Bank CEO Seth Waugh, who established the company’s successful sponsorship of the tour’s Labor Day event in Boston and became a respected voice in the game. Waugh stepped down from his post in 2012, and a few months ago, I spent some time with him at his Florida home to discuss what’s next in his life. While he laughed off talk about ever succeeding Finchem, he was effusive in his praise for the longtime golf commissioner, who he acknowledged is “a little bit of a mystery” among sports leaders.
“Tim’s incredibly organized,” Waugh said. “He’s incredibly disciplined. He is methodical in a good way: not afraid to make a decision, but very measured in terms of how he thinks about things. He doesn’t ever act until he believes he’s ready. He is relentless. He has a goal and keeps at it. He is incredibly well-prepared, so when he goes to negotiate a television deal, he’s spent an enormous amount of time thinking about it, understanding it, modeling it — and he’s the smartest guy in the room because he’s done that work. He never takes his eye off the prize. He’s very good at focusing on what matters most and getting the best possible result for that and then moving on to the next thing.”
I wondered if Finchem’s low-key style may keep him from getting the attention he deserves. “You’re right,” Waugh agreed. “If you see him in a big room, he’s not the guy working the room. He’s in a corner, and people are coming to him. As a result, everything kind of happens on his terms. He’s very controlled and, again, kind of dogmatic and relentless on what he thinks is in the best interest of his business.”
Waugh marvels at how Finchem has handled the broad agendas of his membership — the pro golfers. “It’s a different perspective of the top 10 to 20 players than it is the top 100 to 125, who want as many opportunities to play, whereas the top-10 guys want to have great events that they can fit in,” he said. “Balancing all those interests is not easy and he’s done that very well.”
Waugh is bullish on the state of the game: “Golf is in a really good spot. Tim and his guys have done a great job. He and I had a bunch of conversations after the downturn. He called one weekend and goes, ‘How bad is this?’ I said, ‘It’s real bad. You need to hunker down.’ I’m frankly very impressed that they’ve been able to retain and find new sponsors through what was a really tough time. Jay Monahan has made a big difference. He was our first tournament director and a great guy.
“Tiger’s still the guy, and still really important, but the post-Tiger world is setting itself up well. There are a lot of great young players who are interesting. It may not be the same phenomenon as during Tiger’s prime; it probably never will be. But there are compelling stories and great players. The quality of the play every week is incredible, and having gotten to know a lot of these players, they are really impressive people. Great kids; they’re not entitled.”
Waugh understands golf, the PGA Tour and its inner workings. He also understands business and leadership. He’s an interesting person, so look for more of my conversation with him in an upcoming issue.
Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at email@example.com.