"We have reached a level where we have real brand strength based on our players"

The scribbler's actually asked some tough questions of Commissioner Tim Finchem Wednesday, ranging from doubts about a change in venue for one of the new Fry's events (read here where it was looking like it would be in San Jose), to fairly relentless questioning about drug testing.

So let's get to what's on everyone's mind, an update on the Quest for the Card Fall Finish:

But a lot of this year is spent in getting ready for next year and the next cycle, if you will: our new television agreements, changes in our schedule, new seasonal competition, changes to the Players Championship. I'll just tick off a few of these, and then I'd like to provide you some new detail on the new fall series that we announced earlier in the year, and we have a schedule for discussion today.

Let me start with the Players Championship and just provide you an update.
Oh no, not another Players update! 
The FedEx Cup we announced the details of in June in New York. We are creeping into an all out education campaign for our fans around the country and around the world about the FedEx Cup. You'll see that accelerate during the course of the fall. We believe at this point from the reaction primarily of the players who have learned a great deal about it that it has the opportunity of achieving its primary two objectives: one, to give us a year long competition that enhances the importance of each and every week on the PGA TOUR; and, secondly, to give us a good, solid finish to that portion of our season with the playoff events leading into the TOUR Championship.

How does it add importance to each week if 144 players make the playoffs? Oh, sorry, continue...

And by that I mean that we will have seven tournaments, and those seven tournaments will really determine a lot in terms of a player's capability or ability to compete in the FedEx Cup the following year and how that player will be able to compete because some of the things that will happen in the fall will affect the finish of the Money List and certain things within the Money List that impact a player's eligibility for certain events, certainly the World Golf Championships, all these events will have World Ranking points, certainly access to the invitationals to some degree and access to tournaments generally. So it has significant importance.

Uh huh. Notice he points out how the Fall Finish will determine eligibility in the next year's FedEx Cup. Not who will keep their PGA Tour card, but who will have the privilege of competing in the next year's FedEx Cup.

The second week will be the Viking Classic. We will return to the Annandale Golf Club in Madison, Mississippi, with a new sponsor. Viking is Mississippi based manufacturer of premier kitchen appliances. You're familiar with the first rate sponsor.

Oh of course! Love their stuff. My entire mansion is outfitted with Viking products and of course the twin Sub-Z's.

Again, we want to reiterate what we think is an important part of our schedule. All these events will be broad cast or telecast by The Golf Channel in their entirety. It rounds out the relationship with the Golf Channel and the official money season portion of the year, and I think you would agree that all seven events are solid events, good sponsorship, good purses, and excellent playing opportunities for our players as they compete to position themselves for the following year.

Of course we agree it's all good without ever seeing how they all work.

Hey, we've gone a long time without a platform mention.

With that said, I'll just add that we're also excited about 2007 as we move in to our new telecast phase starting in 7 to 12 with CBS, NBC, The Golf Channel, all of our weekend coverage broadcast in HD television, a good solid platform on The Golf Channel with every Thursday and Friday tape delayed, tape replays in the prime time hours of live coverage in the afternoon, which we think is a much more solid platform leading into our weekend coverage.

Yes, much more solid than silly old USA Network and ESPN. Time for questions.

Q. As it relates to the fall series, can players who don't qualify for the TOUR Championship, for East Lake, can they still finish inside the Top 30 by the end of Disney if they choose to play some of these fall series events, that question pertaining to qualifying for say U.S. Open or British.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Sure. If a player yes. I mean, the Money List is different than points. If a player is not in the TOUR Championship, which I think is your question, could he end up in the Top 30 on the Money List? Absolutely. But in our eligibility structure now for '08, the number one eligibility category will be the Top 30 players in the FedEx Cup points. In other words, those players that go to the TOUR Championship.

Uh, no offense, but no one cares about the Top 30 for the following years Tour. Top 30 for U.S. Open or British, that's kind of a big deal.

And now for the drug questions. [Commissioner steps down from podium, Bob Combs helps him with his tap-dancing shoes.]

Q. This is sort of for a survey story, but unlike other sports like baseball and track & field, there's never been much rumors of performance enhancing drugs in golf. Is that because of the inherent honor system in it? And also, can you conceive of any sport in which it would not be an advantage of a player wanting to cheat and use them?

COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: There has never been any study that well, to answer your question directly, and then I'll comment on the question, I believe the reason we don't generally in this sport have certainly the level of issues that we have in our sports is because of the sport. The culture of the sport, the history of the sport, it's just as important to a player that he is playing by the rules as it is how good he hits the shot. We all learn that when we learn how to play golf as kids, and that is carried through to be one of the dominating characteristics of play at this level of golf.
Oh yeah, that's really going to play into someone's thinking when there are millions on the line.
Q. You just said that you believe you are paying close attention. What exactly are you doing in regards to paying close attention?

COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: We've done a lot of work in the last several years with respect to monitoring closely the testing that goes on in other sports, how testing occurs, what substances they're tested for, what happens with the information when it's collected. We've put a lot more energy behind telling players what the do's and don't's are with respect to illegal drugs.

We don't have a list of performance enhancing drugs in golf at this point, but we have certainly made it clear that in golf, utilizing an illegal drug from a performance enhancing standpoint is the same thing as kicking your ball in the rough. They both might enhance your ability to compete.

He's really got to get a new metaphor. The kicking the ball in the rough thing isn't working.

Q. Given that every other sport in the world, even ones that might have been deemed a good social background such as golf, but sports like cricket and rugby, for example, they've all tested and everyone has found someone taking drugs within their sport. The R & A is going to test at this year's Eisenhower, so why is the PGA TOUR not prepared to test given all the evidence in every other sport?

COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Like I said, at the top, the fact that players in cricket and rugly and baseball, the fact that players take steroids is not evidence to me that players in this sport are taking steroids. I have no evidence of players taking steroids in this sport. If you have some, let me know, but I don't have any of that evidence.

Isn't testing the only way to produce evidence?

Frankly, this subject is not any different to me than any other set of rules. I mean, I noticed the media seems to think it's different, but in my view, it's not. It's not any different. There are rules and they are to be followed, and we expect our players to follow them, and thankfully, over the years, we've had a pretty good track record in that regard.

I don't know of other sports where players have come in and made a mistake on their score card or called a penalty on themselves that's cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. That happens every year on the PGA TOUR. So the culture and the history is somewhat different, and I'm not prepared to throw all that out just because somebody is waving their hand and saying, gee whiz, all the other sports are testing, why aren't you.
Q. We just don't understand how you would know ever if a player was taking drugs if you don't test for it.

COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: But I wouldn't know ever for certain that a player wouldn't be moving the ball in the rough unless he comes and tells me because he could mismark his ball, move it around, tap down a spike mark and he can do it without anybody knowing. That is a performance enhancing violation of the rules, and my guess is if we had a problem on this Tour with players taking, would we know about it?

I know some people say Tim is naive on this, he's got his head in the sand. I don't think we're naive. I think we're very aggressive in having the capability to do whatever is necessary, but we need more than somebody just saying why don't you go test and make sure.

Okay, his position is clear. Let's move on.

Q. Let me be devil's advocate on this one. With the posturing and positioning of the FedEx Cup as season ending playoffs, which are terms that we've heard from the publicity side, what makes you think that fans are going to care about the fall series? It seems to me that they've been put in a position that they're almost irrelevant given the fact that there's no guarantee the top players will be there.

COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, there's no guarantee the top players will play in the Players Championship. There's no guarantee the top players will go play at AT & T. There's no guarantee the top players will play the EDS Byron Nelson. Sometimes they don't.

I think the PGA TOUR is past that. I think we have reached a level where we have real brand strength based on our players.

Not brand strength. REAL brand strength.

Okay, take this part slow.

I remember my first year as Commissioner in a golf cart with Jack Nicklaus driving across the golf course at Memorial, and he had 27 of the Top 30 players on the Money List in the field and he had a number in his hand reading a local article complaining about three guys that weren't there. He said to me, "how can these guys write about three when we've got 27?" I remember the old phrase "prosecution is the enemy of excellence." You get wrapped around the excellence trying to be perfect, you're never going to be excellent. We're seeking excellence.

Well that clears...wait, you have a follow up?

Q. I guess maybe I didn't phrase the question enough. You just used the term grand finale with regard to the FedEx Cup and you've got seven tournaments left on the back end schedule and I'm wondering what the relevance of those tournaments are going to be?

COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: As I said at the top, I think you have to look at the fall schedule as unique unto itself for a certain set of reasons. It has a certain import. These are PGA TOUR events with PGA TOUR players competing on good golf courses with good sponsors raising a fair amount of money for charity. You start with that.

Is there really anything else? And now, a question from Fresno.

FRESNO: This is the first time we've had anything like this here in Fresno, and if you could just take a minute to tell people what we might expect, who we might expect and as we build up to this tournament.

COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: I think we'll have to wait and see in terms of who's going to come and play. That's true with every tournament and certainly every new tournament.

I think important in your case is that our people, and what we think is an excellent golf course getting finished at Running Horse, it's important that the players learn about the quality of the golf course. We'll be encouraging players during the West Coast Swing to get in and play the golf course. That will result in what we hope will be very strong word of mouth. Assuming the golf course performs as well as we think it will, that will translate by the second year, we hope, into a situation where the golf course helps attract a field, which is a very positive thing.

The course in question isn't open, but for a good chuckle, check out the Running Horse web site photos in the home page banner. Just wait until Jack and Jackie disappear, to see what the cart paths will look like, and to see a group of golfers playing as the irrigation system is running. Fun stuff!