- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

A communication breakdown is playing out at this week's Kemper Open.
Top tournament draw and two-time champion Greg Norman doesn't know exactly where he stands with the PGA Tour in terms of eligibility. And commissioner Tim Finchem apparently isn't particularly concerned about informing him.
"My feeling is that we've just passed through this organization," said the 47-year-old Norman, describing his current relationship with the Tour. "They use you for a certain period of time and then they move along to the younger guys. Players in their 40s like myself get somewhat forgotten in that youth cycle. This is not a bitching and crying match, it's just a reality."
The cause of Norman's angst is his uncertain status on Tour this season. The problem started to develop late last August. Players over 45 are required to play 12 events in a season to retain their playing privileges for the following season. And heading into the last two months of the season, Norman had played in only 11. His plan had been to play 13, but he had pulled out of Bay Hill with an injury and was called away from the British Open just before the event to serve as a pallbearer for a family friend.
Ask Finchem and Co., and they would tell you Norman still had plenty of time and a dozen remaining events in which to collect that last start. Norman, however, had his schedule booked with previous business engagements such is the life of a man who has his name on everything from golf courses to fine Cabernet. So the season lapsed without Norman collecting that 12th start, effectively costing him his Tour card.
Without full-time playing privileges this season, Norman is limited to playing in only seven tournaments via sponsor's exemption (like this week's Kemper), plus three of the four majors. Norman has never been a beggar, but it's quite obvious that he felt he deserved a bit of special consideration.
"I have been a staunch supporter of this Tour for years and years," said Norman at the Masters. "And suddenly, when you would like to feel some support in return, it's like they shut the door in my face."
Enter Finchem. Put yourself in the commissioner's shoes for a moment. Now if you were in charge of one of the most powerful sports organizations in the world, and one of your most popular players was facing a similar predicament, wouldn't you come right out and address it both with the player and the media?
You could either say rules are rules, and this is an unfortunate reality for Norman. Or you might say, this is a guy who shouldered the standard for this Tour during the 80s and early 90s, and we're going to grant him a special year's exemption.
Nobody would have had the gall to challenge the decision had Finchem done the latter. After all, this is the Shark we're talking about. This is a guy who has won 18 times on Tour and 60 other times worldwide. And more importantly, this is the player who kept the Tour popular post-Jack and pre-Tiger, stuffing the organization's coffers along the way.
But Finchem said nothing until yesterday.
"I'd love to see [Norman] play more, and he knows I feel that way," said Finchem, who was at TPC at Avenel to honor TV analyst Ken Venturi before what will be his last broadcast this week. "The more he plays, the more value he generates for the overall Tour. It's not that we're trying to restrict Greg from playing. We'd like to see him play more. If we have to make some rules changes to accommodate that, then I'm all for it."
Nice timing on that announcement. Norman has been turning down invites, which unquestionably costs the Tour money in ticket sales, because he thought the Tour was going to stick by its suddenly malleable rules. Just yesterday before he heard Finchem's words on tape, Norman was worried about what would happen if he qualified Tuesday in Tampa for the U.S. Open. Would he have to decommit from Hartford or would he stand by his word and skip the season's second major?
Suddenly, it seems the Tour hasn't abandoned him. So, why didn't Finchem share the good news with Norman months ago?
"Going into this year, he didn't know he was going to be extended invitations to the Masters and the PGA Championship, events for which he was not otherwise eligible," said Finchem. "Once we had that information, we dealt with it and we're accommodating his schedule. He changed how much he was going to play."
Norman's reply: "How can he say that? He never even called me to ask how much I intended to play."
Therein lies the real issue why hasn't there been more communication between these two golf giants? From Norman's end, perhaps the lack of contact is personal. On some level, the charismatic Aussie still blames Finchem for crushing his World Tour concept more than a decade ago and then snatching and recasting the idea as the Tour's set of World Golf Championships.
From Finchem's perspective, however, better communication would simply seem like good business. By Finchem's own admission, Norman is still a major asset for the Tour. Even at 47, Norman still commands a crowd. Having the Aussie content and competing is good for the Tour. And what's good for the Tour is good for it's commissioner, even if it means an awkward phone call or two.
If fate is the ultimate arbiter, then perhaps Norman will contend at Avenel this week. Though his performance in limited play this season has been only mildly impressive (four top-36 finishes in six starts), nobody has a better record in the event both at Congressional and Avenel. Norman's scoring average of 68.9 in 20 rounds on the 7,005-yard, par-71 TPC layout is the lowest among the event's 156 competitors. What could be more satisfying to Norman than to quash this controversy by once again conquering the Kemper?
"I certainly still feel like I can do it because I've had some success around here," Norman said. "But I don't play golf because of any personal agenda. I play golf because I love the game."

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