Golf

Finchem can't have it both ways

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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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If you can’t even stand up for your own beliefs, then they’re really not your beliefs at all. That’s what was so disturbing about what Tim Finchem, PGA Tour commissioner, said the other day. That, mixed with golf’s uncomfortable history of exclusion, racism and sexism.

He was asked how golf views Augusta National’s “discriminatory policy’’ of not having women members. And Finchem explained it away by trying to justify why it was OK to throw away the tour’s morals and ethics for the Masters.

“We have a policy that says that when we go out and do a co-sanctioned event, we are going to play it at a club that is open to women members, open to minority members, etc.,’’ he said. “And we follow that policy carefully.

“In the case of the Masters we have concluded a number of times now, and we have certainly not moved off of this, that we are not going to give up the Masters as a tournament on our tour. It’s too important. And so at the end of the day, the membership of that club have to determine their membership. They are not doing anything illegal.’’

Illegal? Who said anything about it being illegal? The PGA Tour’s policy wasn’t about following the law, but rather about following a conscience.

What a statement that was from Finchem. The tour has taken a moral stance since 1990, when it made that policy not to play at clubs that exclude. And Finchem says it is followed “carefully.’’

Except at the Masters.

Except at the Masters? Exactly what event defines golf more than the Masters? What kind of moral stance has an “except at the Masters’’ clause?

It would be like Roger Goodell saying he’s here for the safety of players, putting in rules against head shots. Except at the Super Bowl.

Try telling your wife that you are strongly, morally opposed to infidelity. Except when it comes to that hot woman at the bar, who you are about to take to a hotel. See how that goes over.

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But for some reason, Finchem’s comments seem to have gone over just fine, as golf’s little circle continues to protect itself.

Look, this is not a plea to get Augusta National to have women members. That’s where the argument always seems to go. In fact, this isn’t even about Augusta National at all. That private men’s club can have whatever members it chooses, even if it does foster golf’s long time exclusionary image.

For some reason, the focus on this issue is always on the club. But this is about the PGA Tour and what it stands for. Well, what it claims it stands for, anyway.

This “policy’’ Finchem talks about? It is now, officially, meaningless.

It ceased to exist the second Finchem spoke those words this week. It might still be in some rulebook or guidebook or PR pamphlets, but you cannot have a policy based on morals, and then say you will follow it, “except when it suits us otherwise.’’

Finchem is just blatantly saying that he has situational ethics.

And what an uncomfortable statement that is, especially for this game with this history. It says that when golf put in the policy in 1990 that it would not hold events at exclusionary clubs, well, it didn’t really want to put that in at all.

It didn’t really believe in the rule. The PGA Tour was forced into the move by public pressure, and did it only for public relations. Last week, when Finchem gave his annual talk before the Players Championship, he actually had the nerve to begin his answer by stating that the tour stands behind its ethics, but just not at the Masters.

He was trying to get the PR benefit, as well as what he really wants.

The PGA Tour either has to abandon Augusta National or officially abandon its policy. They can’t co-exist.

Finchem went on:

“We just elect to continue to recognize them as an official money event on the PGA Tour because we think it’s that important to golf. So we don’t get to (the point of) determining whether their policies are right or wrong, because we don’t have to, because we made the conclusion that regardless of those policies, we are going to continue to play and recognize them as part of the PGA Tour.’’

Chilling words from a golf commissioner: regardless of those policies.

In 2005, the NCAA was trying to figure out how to fight a battle against schools using American Indian imagery as sports mascots. It ruled that those mascots were “hostile and abusive.’’

Did you notice that Florida State is still called the Seminoles, still has its American Indian ceremony and still is eligible for bowl games?

Back then, I asked the NCAA why Florida State was getting a pass. A spokesperson said that it was because the school had a working, business relationship with a related tribe.

So does the NCAA think it’s hostile and abusive or not?

Does the PGA Tour have a policy that tournaments are played only at clubs with women and minority members, or not?

Finchem says it does, except when it doesn’t.

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