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PGA chief upbeat about tour in Utah

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PARK CITY — PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem picked the worst possible time to meet the Utah media. At the same time Finchem's press conference was scheduled at Park Meadows Country Club Thursday afternoon, some legendary old football coach in Provo was attracting most of the state's sports media to his press conference.

Finchem wasn't offended in the least that only one local media person showed up to his press conference Thursday afternoon. He understood that a local icon like LaVell Edwards would attract a little more attention than himself. Fichem is used to staying in the background as he has while guiding the PGA Tour to unparalleled success since taking over for longtime commissioner Deane Beman six years ago.

Finchem dropped by Park Meadows Thursday to check out the progress of Novell Utah Showdown tournament and also to meet with the Senior Players Advisory Council, something he does about four times a year.

It wasn't the first time Finchem has visited Utah — he's skied at Deer Valley and Alta several times before and lately has been urged by part-time Utah resident Mark O'Meara to do some fly-fishing here.

The commissioner is well aware of the problems the Senior Tour tournament has had in Utah over the years, but he feels the tournament is on the right track and in good hands right now.

"Everything looks super so far," he said. "It's made a lot of progress and seems to have stabilized. The staging is much better, the prize money is going up, the charitable contributions are growing significantly and we expect good crowds here again this year.

"If all that is working, it's great to have (the tournament) on the schedule because this is such a great place to come to play and the players enjoy being here."

Finchem praised tournament director Bryan Naugle, who used to work for the PGA Tour, for the "tenacity" to keep the tournament in Utah and to Novell for its "solid reputation in the business community."

When asked about a market the size of Utah's supporting two PGA events — the Buy.com Tour will come to Willow Creek Country Club in two weeks — Finchem didn't sound quite so positive.

"It's something we need to look at," he said. "We're pleased with this tournament and obviously we'd like to continue both and bring that much golf to this market. We've got to be careful that one is not detracting too much from the other, however. It's something we'll have to review as we go toward the end of the year."

Getting enough sponsorship money is one of the big problems the two Utah tournaments as well as other tournaments such as the PGA Tour event in Reno later this year, face. The purses on both the regular PGA Tour and the Senior Tour have skyrocketed in recent years with the overall purses tripling on each tour during the past decade.

Finchem said he isn't too worried about golf purses are growing too fast.

"We have to watch it carefully, but we don't want to be in a position where we reduce the purses," he said. "Golf is growing, the population is growing and to the extent that you can, you want to increase everything about our sport. You do have to watch it carefully and make those assessments, but I do not think at this point we're done growing."

As for the dominance of Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour, Finchem sees the positive side.

"Fundamentally it's a very positive thing for our sport," he said. "To have an athlete who brings viewers, ticket buyers and interest from the media in ways he does beyond the traditional parameters of our sport, it's a total net plus. Sometimes the media does concentrate too much on Tiger. But the sport is still bigger than the player."

Finchem says he is "extremely excited" about the new contract the Senior Tour has with CNBC, which will give the Senior Tour 33 weeks of consistent air time every weekend. Finchem is also looking forward to the television negotiations next summer for the 2003-2006 seasons, when the PGA Tour should be in position to sign some big-money contracts.

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