For everything that has been denied golf fans in this period of quarantine—access to courses for many, the Masters for all, freedom from Peloton updates for an unlucky few— one thing remains soothingly constant among the social media commentariat: begrudgery.
That much was evident with the news that former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem will join Tiger Woods and Marion Hollins in the next class to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. The announcement was greeted with griping that was as predictable as it is tedious, an exercise in collective eye-rolling intended to suggest not only that Finchem is undeserving but that his inclusion dilutes the Hall’s credibility.
That argument is familiar and has been leveled against more deserving targets who got a call to the Hall, like George H.W. Bush, Bing Crosby or Bob Hope. But there’s no sound basis for raising it against Finchem.
There is a sentiment that says lockers in St. Augustine ought to be earned for exploits on the field of play, and the only field of play that matters is a golf course. Not a boardroom or a factory or a production trailer or a media center. It’s an absolutist position that would disqualify plenty of current Hall of Famers.
Like C.B. Macdonald or Pete Dye, who only designed those fields of play.
Like Karsten Solheim, who innovated the instruments used on those fields.
Like Dan Jenkins or Herb Graffis, whose only mastery was of a typewriter on the sidelines.
The reality is that most sports halls of fame are intended to acknowledge not just quantifiable achievement but immeasurable impact. Charlie Sifford wasn’t inducted for his two PGA Tour victories but for what his presence, courage and determination symbolized in golf’s ugliest era. Frank Chirkinian wasn’t given a locker to store his Emmy awards, but because the legendary CBS producer’s influence far exceeded that of most players he put on living room TVs.
It’s why the football and tennis Halls have “contributor” categories to enshrine non-players, and it’s why the golf Hall is welcoming Finchem, just as it did his predecessor Deane Beman, Augusta National’s Billy Payne and the European Tour’s Ken Schofield before him.
This is hardly to say Finchem is beyond criticism. He forged a colorless culture at Tour HQ and enforced a level of secrecy around disciplinary proceedings and drug testing that would have been envied in Pyongyang. But it can’t be argued that he didn’t leave the Tour in a considerably better place than he found it.
When he took over as commissioner in 1994, total prize money on Tour was $56.4 million. Toss in the Champions and then-Web.com Tours and the fund was just over $90 million. This season the Tour’s prize money is nearing $400 million before bonuses, at least until COVID-19 upended things. He created the oft-maligned World Golf Championship events, which if nothing else helped temper Greg Norman’s plans for world domination, and the FedEx Cup playoff system 13 years ago.
It’s a popular though specious suggestion that Finchem owes his success to coat-tailing on Tiger Woods. Sure, he was dealt a strong hand, but he played it well for what was demanded of him. If subsisting on crumbs from Tiger’s table was sufficient to earn a spot in the Hall, then Mark Steinberg would have his own wing.
Arguing over Hall of Fame inductees is a staple of most every sport, moreso during a quarantine when we’re happy for any meat to chew on, no matter how lacking in nutrition it is. And golf’s Hall has richly deserved much of the criticism it has received over the years. The last class inducted Peggy Kirk Bell. The famed teacher was eminently worthy, but she was deserving of the honor when she was alive. She lived for 95 years, but the Hall only saw fit to induct her three years after her death. That kind of standard can’t be encouraging to others who deserve a spot and have been thus far denied, like Tom Weiskopf or Butch Harmon.
There are obvious shortcomings surrounding golf’s Hall of Fame. There are those who deserve the honor who have been overlooked and those who’ve been given a spot they didn’t merit. But whatever his failings, Tim Finchem doesn’t belong on either list.
Published at Golfweek.com, April 20, 2020.