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Tour Feature (posted 12th September 1998)

Finchem addresses US tour players about union

Associated Press

Oakville, Ontario - One of three players behind the Tour Players Association says its battle is with the system, not with the PGA Tour..

Commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday the system is working just fine.

Finchem, who spoke at a players' meeting Tuesday night at the Bell Canadian Open, said the four players on the Policy Board and the 16-member Players Advisory Council can handle any issue that the TPA has presented.

And while he said he was not concerned by an association that has grown to at least 50 players, he conceded it could be divisive and lead to similar problems that have plagued team sports.

"This business of `we-they' ... there's no place for it in our sport," Finchem said in his first public comments since the TPA began gaining steam.

The players meeting had been scheduled about a month ago and dealt with more than just the TPA — issues such as retirement plans and whether earnings from the new World Golf Championship series should be official money. But it was the first time Finchem spoke about the association in front of a large group of players.

"It's a non-issue," former PGA champion Paul Azinger said. "The tone was good."

Mark Brooks, Danny Edwards and Lee Rinker, who organized the TPA, said it is not designed to be confrontational. Its primary interest is having a stronger voice in how tour policy is changed and how tour money is distributed. The group, which Rinker says now has more than 50 members, has hired Leonard Decof as its general counsel.

"We're already making strides," Rinker said. "I think we have enough numbers right now. The more we get, the stronger our position becomes. Any time you want to make changes, it could turn into a confrontational experience. We want to take the high road, and we're going to continue on that high road."

The TPA has held informational meetings at four tournament sites over the past three weeks. Players are asked to sign a membership form and pay a $1,000 initial membership fee for legal costs and other expenses.

That at least 50 players have signed on is an important step for an association that some players — such as Davis Love III and Steve Jones — believe will die because of apathy. Its growth comes one year before the tour gets even richer — a new network TV deal next year will increase total prize money to $129.8 million, up from $96.4 million this year.

"As we get more successful in generating more dollars, there will be a bigger challenge for us as a sport in terms of how we deal with that," Finchem said. "That takes in a number of different ways, and this is one of them."

Still, he said he was not alarmed by the association, saying players typically get together to talk about issues all the time. He also said he felt satisfied that the "vast majority" of players believe in what the tour is doing.

"All we can do is continue to do the best job we can do communicating with the players where we've been, where we are now and where we're going, and to try to make certain that where we're going is something the players are comfortable with," Finchem said. "I believe today that they are."

Rinker said among the TPA concerns are the level of involvement by players in making decisions. He said the election of players to the Policy Board and to the Players Advisory Committee is far from a democratic process. He also said players want more information on what percentage of tour revenue is going to the players.

"It's the system. It's nothing directed against Tim," Rinker said. "It gets back to the theme of a democratic process and being treated like shareholders."

Finchem said the tour gets an independent audit every year and discloses the same information as a publicly held company. He also noted that professional golf was the only sport in which athletes sit "shoulder to shoulder" with outside directors in a board room to make decisions for its game.

"Change is not the issue here," Finchem said. "This system has changed constantly in the last 30 years. We've made 50-some policy changes since I've been commissioner, and 47 of them were instigated by player questions.

"I don't know since I've been with the PGA TOUR that the Policy Board has ever taken a position they did not think was in concert with a vast majority of the players. Not one."

Rinker said the TPA hopes to be able to elect permanent officers and adopt bylaws within the next few months, although he said it did not have to be accomplished by the season-ending Tour Championship the first weekend of November.