It figures that the PGA Tour spent last week in Canada, where the dollar is known as the loonie, because the Tour, too, is on the verge of going loony over dollars. The golf world has been buzzing since last month's Sprint International, during which the nascent Tour Players Association kicked off its grassroots campaign to reform the relationship between the players and the bureaucracy that represents them. The prospect of a power struggle over the Tour's vast resources has inspired both horror and giddy anticipation. That was even before the plot thickened at the Canadian Open, won by Billy Andrade in a one-hole playoff over Bob Friend at Glen Abbey Golf Club, outside Toronto.
Two days before the tournament, Tour commissioner Tim Finchem blew into town for a meeting with his players, and he packed some serious firepower: the Tour's legal counsel and three of the independent directors from its nine-man policy board, as well as a detailed multimedia presentation on the economics of the organization. On Tuesday evening about 50 players piled into a hospitality tent at Glen Abbey, and over the next 4� hours (including a buffet dinner) Finchem unspooled his case, seeking to rebuff the TPA's chief assertions—that the Tour is secretive about its finances and is out of touch with its players, particularly those at the southern end of the money list. This marathon rap session may well be remembered as a watershed moment for the Tour because Finchem's spiel polarized sentiment on both sides of the debate. "It's pretty clear the commissioner's intention was to come in here and squash the association," Danny Edwards, the TPA's interim president, said last Saturday. "It didn't happen. If anything, it has only strengthened our resolve."
This seems like a peculiar time for unrest, what with purses that look like they're on andro. But 1998 has been a year of discontent, a season marred by the public relations hit the Tour is taking on the Casey Martin case, the controversial makeup date at Pebble Beach—six months elapsed before the final round was played—and the dumping of a popular homespun tournament in Sutton, Mass., to make room for next year's glitzy World Championships. Together these disparate developments have had a galvanizing effect. "The players were left out on all of those decisions," says Edwards. "That's wrong. The PGA Tour as an organization exists to serve the players, not the other way around. We need to have a voice, and that's what the association is all about."
Finchem has been known to act unilaterally, as he did in the unprecedented Pebble Beach case, but it is the policy board that makes the Tour's bylaws. The board is composed of one officer of the PGA of America, four independent directors, who are usually captains of industry from outside of golf, and four player directors, each of whom serves a three-year term. It is said that the players carry the most clout on the board, but a unanimous vote is required for any action to be passed. Whether this setup can adequately represent the 200 or so private contractors who play the Tour is at the heart of the TPA's beef, particularly when the current player directors—Mark O'Meara, Davis Love III, Jay Haas and Tom Lehman—rank fourth, sixth, 19th and 20th on the career money list, respectively.
The policy board's selection process is one of the TPA's targets. Player directors are elected by the Tour's voting members (anyone who has played in 15 events the previous season), but candidates reach the ballot only after serving for at least a year on the 16-man player advisory council. Eight of the spots on the council come from a vote of the general membership, while the other eight are handpicked by the four player directors, an incestuous arrangement that explains why the board is often top-heavy with name players instead of the rank and file.
One of the totems of the TPA's proposed reform is to have Tour policy decided by a simple majority vote of the general membership. "They want to vote on everything? That doesn't happen in real life," Jeff Sluman, a former policy board member, said two weeks ago. "That's why we elect representatives to Congress." Sluman is 43rd in the World Ranking, meaning he should qualify for the World Championships, which are reserved for the 64 top-ranked players and have record $5 million purses. The World Championships have become symbolic of the widening gulf between the haves and have-nots on the Tour, and many of the latter are up in arms that the Tour is allowing the bloated World Championships paychecks to count as official money. If this were put to a vote by the general membership, Sluman and the other elite players would be vastly outnumbered.
The economic stratification on Tour has also been reflected in the debate about whether players should be paid a nominal, per-tournament expense stipend, a rallying point on the TPA's agenda. For the well-heeled, an extra two or three grand a week is inconsequential, so they can afford to be ideological purists. "The PGA Tour is the ultimate form of capitalism, and paying people to miss the cut is a socialist idea," says Paul Azinger, 12th on the career money list.
Edwards sees it differently. "If Steve Kerr played in the first half of a basketball game but not the second, you wouldn't say he deserves nothing, would you?" he asks.
It was this question of expense compensation that pulled the trigger on the formation of the TPA. Edwards, a five-time winner from 1977 to '85, quit playing full time in 1988 and has since formed Royal Precision, Inc. (NASDAQ symbol: RIFL). Last season, at 46, Edwards returned to begin getting his game in shape for the Senior tour, and he was struck by the level of disaffection among the players. Over the next year he had talks with dozens of them, and on at least three occasions he spoke with Finchem. During one of those conversations, Edwards raised the possibility of an expense stipend, and by his account Finchem said that the vast majority of the players opposed it. This contradicted everything Edwards had heard, so he drafted a questionnaire and about 80 players responded. According to Edwards, 95% were in favor of expense compensation, but the answers to two other questions "were kind of shocking," he says. Asked if "the current system of player representation has been open and responsive to player ideas, and [whether] this system has produced trust and confidence," Edwards says about 80% responded no. To the question, "Do you believe that an independent players' association with professional leadership would be more likely to be productive in achieving these concerns," he says that between 85% and 90% said yes.
Edwards took his data to Larry Rinker, a friend who in 1993 had met with considerable resistance when he tried to hire an attorney to act as a liaison between the players and the Tour. Edwards and Rinker then contacted a lawyer, Leonard Decof. A soft-spoken resident of Providence, Decof has been public enemy number 1 in the eyes of the Tour ever since representing Karsten Manufacturing against it in the so-called square-grooves case of the early '90s. Experts viewed the eventual settlement of that case as a decisive victory for Karsten.