Coming off its first year without Tiger Woods winning a tournament, the PGA Tour will be leaning on its next generation of players to promote the 2011 season.
Commissioner Tim Finchem said he could not recall greater interest in such a big group of rookies and other young players in his previous 17 years running the PGA Tour.
Among those in their 20s, Dustin Johnson played in the final group of two majors, Rickie Fowler became the first PGA Tour rookie to be selected for the Ryder Cup team and golf had two players in their 20s (Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer) win majors for the first time since 2001. Also starring were Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa, who are not PGA Tour members but will play at least six times in America next season.
“I think the takeaway on the competition side of 2010, more than anything else, was the tremendous interest in young players coming up,” Finchem said during a conference call Thursday. “I’ve never in my tenure seen so much buzz and interest about rookies and young players creating exciting performances. Actually, it has led us to conclude that we really need to focus on that dynamic as we go into 2011.”
Finchem said youth will be “our primary promotional focus” because it makes for good theater.
Woods still figures to command much of the attention next season, which begins in one month at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. Woods, who hasn’t played at Kapalua since 2005, wasn’t eligible this year. It was his first year as a pro when he didn’t win a single tournament.
Finchem would not say if he expects Woods to play more in 2011, although he has a feeling that other top players might be adding more tournaments to their schedule.
Off the course, perhaps the most critical component to the new year will be negotiating a new TV contract. The six-year deal with the two networks expires in 2012.
This will be the first time the PGA Tour is dealing only with networks, having signed a 15-year deal with The Golf Channel in 2007. Also different this time is that Comcast, which owns The Golf Channel, is acquiring NBC Sports, a major network for the tour.
Golf is coming off a year of low ratings, mainly because Woods played only six times in America, and didn’t play very well. It also was hurt during the Vancouver Olympics, and Finchem said NFL ratings in September were at an all-time high.
Critical to the negotiations is having title sponsors in place, an area where the tour has done well in a tough economy. It found new title sponsors this year for tournaments at Kapalua, Phoenix, Miami, San Diego, Sea Island and Malaysia. Finchem said 30 percent of the tour’s title sponsors are signed up beyond 2012, which would put them in the next TV contract.
The other business question for the year is whether Finchem decides to stick around.
His six-year contract with the PGA Tour is to expire in 2012, and Finchem said he would need to notify the board this year if he plans to retire. It doesn’t sound as though he’s interested in leaving.
“I’ve often said my goal is to die in office, and I assume I’m not going to die in a couple of years,” he said. “I’m pretty much where I’ve always been on this -- as long as the players are happy with the direction we are going and the job I’m doing; as long as my energy level is sufficient to handle what’s involved; as long as our team here is comfortable with my leadership, then I will most likely to be open to staying. But those are three big ifs. I have an open mind at this point, but I’m certainly not in the position of campaigning for it."