It must be tough to step up to the first tee as commissioner of the Tour. Do people expect you to hit the ball 300 yards?
Everybody thinks I play all the time, but that's not the real world. I play a respectable game. My handicap is 4.8. But my focus is on my job, and this economy hasn't made the job any easier. Most of the Tour's sponsors came up for renewal in 2002. We've had more turnover than at any other time since the 1990 recession.
Is the Tour in trouble?What are your main business challenges?
We are in an extremely difficult business environment. Companies are making spending decisions much more carefully than they do when profit margins are up. But tough times have a way of demonstrating real strength, and the Tour's strength is visible. Companies will want to align with us because the core values we represent—the image of our players and our tournaments' relationships with their communities—resonate in times like these.
Martha Burk says that if Augusta National won't admit a female member, the Tour shouldn't count the Masters as an official event.
I think we've been very straightforward in answering that question. While we respect and appreciate Ms. Burk's position, that is something we are not prepared to do.
Is high-tech equipment getting out of hand?
We need to cap distance with the golf ball. The USGA and the R&A did a good job with clubs. Now balls need to be addressed. The best thing would be if over the next twenty years any added distance is a function of the athletes' generating more clubhead speed. You could argue that we should roll things back, but that's not practical. What we should do is draw a line in the sand now.
You've played with golfing presidents as well as golf pros.
Sam Snead once told me, "I hate playing with presidents because their putts are always good." George H. W. Bush, George W.'s father, is a favorite of mine, though—just a wonderful man who has been a tremendous help to me by chairing the First Tee program.
He doesn't mind your work for the Democrats?
I'm not much of a Democrat anymore. I voted for George W., and I've voted for a Republican congresswoman the last three elections. I still have the ideological views I developed from years as a Democrat, but they are balanced with pragmatism. Originally I felt I had to vote for George W. simply because of his father, but now I am solidly in George W.'s camp. I'm proud of the way he has handled the office.
Your office overlooks the TPC at Sawgrass. Any advice on surviving the notorious seventeenth hole?
I tell people the key to playing that hole is the power of positive thinking. "When you go up there," I say, "don't let yourself think about how in one year ninety-eight of the world's best players knocked a ball into the water." That usually drives them crazy.
Do you usually make three on that hole?
Nope. I've been in that water a lot. But I did make one very good three. I hit my tee shot in the water, then put down another ball and hit it into the hole for a par.
Would you rather be President of the United States or play like Tiger?
There's no term limit on playing golf like Tiger. I'll take that.
Scorecard: Tim Finchem
FAVORITE COURSES TPC at Sawgrass, Turnberry
CLUBS "I try to keep all the manufacturers happy. I'm playing a Titleist driver, Callaway irons, an Odyssey putter, a Ping wedge, a Cleveland wedge, a TaylorMade three-wood and an Orlimar fairway wood."