Tim Finchem’s love for the game of golf began when he was a young boy and it continues today. Growing up in Virginia the son of a Marine and the oldest of six children, Finchem would play all summer as a child. Then, when Finchem was 10, his father took him to see Arnold Palmer win a tournament in North Carolina, which solidified the boy’s love of the sport, as well as his admiration for Palmer, with whom he later developed a deep friendship.
Golf, along with politics and the debate team, were staples of Finchem’s youth, and his path took him to the University of Richmond and then to law school at the University of Virginia. From there, he went to Washington, D.C., where in 1978 he joined President Jimmy Carter’s staff in the Office of Economic Affairs.
His time in the Carter administration was brief, and afterward Finchem opened his own consulting firm, taking on the PGA Tour as a client. In 1987, he joined the tour as vice president of business affairs, working closely with — and prospering under — former Commissioner Deane Beman. The two were like-minded in their efforts to grow the game, and Finchem was named to replace Beman when he retired as commissioner in 1994.
When you look at the modern tour today, Finchem’s fingerprints are all over it. Few commissioners changed a sport as much as he did during an extraordinarily productive and positive tenure. Finchem stepped down after 22 years as commissioner on Jan. 1, 2017, at the age of 69, and he will receive SBJ’s Lifetime Achievement Award this spring at the Sports Business Awards for his lasting and valuable contributions to the PGA Tour and the game of golf.
Finchem’s legacy is clear and unquestioned. An expert negotiator and tactical business mind, he expanded and grew the tour through the creation of lucrative events, oversaw massive increases in media rights and player purses, implemented a major global expansion and helped return golf to the Olympics after a century of absence.
His relentless work ethic and vision led to these groundbreaking initiatives during an aggressive and progressive tenure that impressively transformed the tour to a thriving, dynamic, global enterprise. It’s not hard to see the accomplishments under Finchem’s watch — there was the creation of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the Presidents Cup, the World Golf Championships and The First Tee program. His expansion efforts helped player prize money skyrocket from $90 million on three tours in 1994 to more than $400 million across six tours today. His efforts also included a massive increase in the tour’s international footprint.
But perhaps most impressive was Finchem’s focus on the PGA Tour’s exemplary, yet largely unnoticed, charitable efforts. Likely one of the most under-appreciated elements in sports, Finchem helped drive the tour’s charitable giving in event communities to more than $2 billion. And it was all accomplished in an understated, deliberate style built on a bedrock of drive and ambition that he learned from his parents. Indeed, if you speak to anyone who worked for Finchem or those who negotiated with him, they will all marvel at the intellect, steely focus, preparation and work ethic that he brought to the office every day.
His energy and passion for the job was clearly apparent when he retired, leaving the PGA Tour’s robust business to his colleague, Jay Monahan. The same ambition that drove Finchem on the golf course as a youngster also forever changed the landscape of the game and cemented his legacy as one of the most effective commissioners in all of sports.
Since retiring, Finchem has remained active — playing golf, growing The First Tee and simply enjoying life and his family. Finchem’s career will be profiled in the May 20 issue of Sports Business Journal and he will be honored during the Sports Business Awards on May 22 at a ceremony at the Marriott Marquis Times Square.
Abraham Madkour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.