By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Monday finishes, golf's youth movement and the popularity of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup were among the topics of conversation earlier this week as PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem joined Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias on Golf Channel's "Morning Drive."
The Hyundai Tournament of Champions kicks off the 2012 season on Friday in prime-time with the winner set to be crowned for the first time on Monday. It's one of two tournaments -- along with the Deutsche Bank Championship -- that concludes its 72-hole run on Monday this year.
Finchem said the Monday finish at Kapalua is just one of several ideas the TOUR has as it searches for innovative new ways to present the game and the players who play it.
* "One of the exciting things about this year is that we're going to be experimenting with a lot of different things -- a lot of stuff online, a lot more digital content to our fans -- and also we're going to play around with different formats and different times and this is one of them. We will watch to see how it works. We'll see how it feels, see how the fans react to it. If it's a more compelling and a more efficient way to get what our players are doing in front of our fan base it will be a winner. We're going to try to do some more experimentation in this area."
The commissioner also sees the 2012 campaign as one of opportunity -- particularly in terms of marketing younger players like Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley, who have really connected with the fans.
* "Everything is pretty good right now on the basic things we want to see. There is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and focus on the younger players that were coming up the last couple of years. Some of that is driven by the fact that Tiger woods came on the scene when guys like Rickie Fowler were 7-8-9 years old. The game has gotten more athletic. Players are bigger, stronger and more exciting to watch ... and people are reacting to that very positively.
"That's affecting our sponsorship, it's affecting our television and it's a good juxtaposition of those young guys versus the guy who's been the No. 1 player for a long time on our TOUR and also the other veterans. So those stories are terrific. Our new television deals are going to be tremendous in terms of the different ways we convey what they're doing to the public. We've got the best continuity of our sponsorship that we've had. So all of those things are very, very good."
Finchem is also pleased with the progress of the FedExCup. He admitted the amount of volatility in the Playoffs has been a point of discussion over the years but acknowledges that is part of the allure of the system. While the commissioner wouldn't rule out changes in the future, he feels the fans have embraced the FedExCup as the sixth season begins.
* "As I said two years ago we wanted to get into a situation where the fans could get used to the system. That's happening. The Cup has really grown every single year. I think another recent indication of its popularity has to do with Lee Westwood's decision, who hasn't competed in the FedExCup but has indicated one of the reasons he's rejoining the TOUR is to do just that. There's so much interest and focus on it now. It's a big part of the game. So we're going to continue to look at that. … But you have to say that over the last five years the FedExCup has done better each and every year and we look for that again this year."
Finchem also said he sees the growth of The First Tee as essential to the growth of the game. He spoke extensively about what this year’s $100 million capital campaign will allow the program that uses golf to teach life skills to youngsters to accomplish.
* "We've reached 4.7 million kids with The First Tee program in the last 14 years. If we can be successful in this campaign which will culminate in Pebble Beach on Oct. 8 ... Joe Barrow and his team will be able to reach 10 million kids with The First Tee over the next 6 or 7 years which really has an impact in improving the look and the face of what the game of golf is in the U.S. and globally."