LPGA Unveils Five-Year Plan to Boost Its Image
Votaw, commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, called his players together for a mandatory three-day summit in Phoenix. He revealed a five-year plan for the LPGAs future that focuses above all on the players themselves.
The schematic we tried to convey, Votaw said Sunday night, is that were trying to make each of them more marketable in this competitive sports and entertainment market.
To some of the more critical voices in golf, Votaws news came not a moment too soon. The LPGA has been accused of lagging behind other golf organizations in purse size, television exposure, and sponsorship muscle.
To cure that perception, Votaw and his staff laid out a plan that took nearly two years to craft. Through a collection of new initiatives, the LPGA intends to reposition itself as an entertainment property, not just a sports league. It will also look for new ways to broaden its fan base, and will take a more active role in the development of young players.
The entertainment function will be served by the development of current LPGA players into celebrity athletes, Votaw said. He outlined five characteristics such golfers should have:
1. Performance. A top 30 player should be fighting to get into the top 10, and a top 150 player should be trying to become exempt, Votaw said.
2. Relevance to at least a segment of the fan base. The better a player performs, Votaw reasoned, the more people will want to know about her. When people discover, say, Betsy Kings devotion to Christianity or Juli Inksters success as a working mother, those players will gain great equity with an identifiable and enthusiastic segment of the fan base.
3. Attractiveness to that fan base. I dont necessarily mean drop-dead gorgeous, Votaw said, but the kind of attributes that make people attractive, that make people want to know more about them.
4. Joy and passion for the game. The players must look like theyre having fun before the audience will have fun.
5. Approachability. More autographs, more smiles, more cooperation with the press.
Theres not one player in this room who cannot in some way embody all five of these elements of success, Votaw told the players.
Gathered in that room were players of every shape and size, not all of whom fit the female marketing archetype. This did not concern Votaw, who insisted on focusing more on general attractiveness than the so-called lookism that sometimes dogs marketing efforts for womens sports.
Image does matter in many contexts in this society, Votaw said, and we need to be mindful of that.
The entertainment aspect of the plan overlaps significantly with the goal of building the fan base, Votaw said. As for development, the LPGA will take a greater interest in young players instead of waiting for the next star to emerge.
Were going to look at our membership policies, our qualifying process, and relationships with organizations such as the Futures Tour and the National High School Coaches Association, he said.
Both Votaw and Charles Mechem, a former LPGA commissioner who advised Votaw on the plan and attended the Phoenix summit, expected dissent or at least trepidation from some of the players. But early reports are that dissent never materialized.
I did not see it. And I watched pretty carefully, said Mechem, who is still revered and trusted by a great many LPGA players, although he has had no official position with the league since 1996. I know a lot of these players, and I was on the lookout for body language from some people from whom I expected a negative reaction. But I didnt see it.
We had a great three days, from the minute the summit started until the end, Votaw said. Ive never been prouder of the players in this organization.
Im just glad we finally have a plan, one player was heard to say. Now I can concentrate on my golf.
The new plan started about 20 months ago when LPGA senior staff commissioned a brand-value assessment, and hired Barb Kauffman, a consultant with marketing experience in the golf divisions of Spalding Sports Worldwide and Maxfli, to do it.
It was just kind of an audit, Kauffman said Sunday night. I interviewed consumers, sponsors, media, players and what became clear was, this organization was 50 years old, and it was still doing business the way it did 50 years ago.
Then I asked if people thought the LPGA had peaked, or if it had growth potential. And most people saw potential.
Tell-it-like-it-is advice from Kauffman, Mechem and others, including Basil DeVito, a former World Wrestling Federation and the XFL executive, led to the new plan. Specific initiatives will be rolled out in coming months, Votaw said, but he declined to reveal most of them now.
One early move to serve the development function is to add a professional development component to the work of Betsy Clark, head of the leagues Teaching and Club Pro Division. No longer will the efforts of Clark and her staff be confined to preparing women who dont want to tour for club pro jobs.
Instead of hoping the next star comes, theyre going to develop entertainers, and from a young age, Kauffman said.
But dont look for the LPGA to make robots. Although the league has had to withstand criticism that its two top stars, Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam, are a little shy and vanilla by American press standards, the LPGA doesnt want to change personalities.
That would be the dumbest thing we could do, Mechem said. When I was commissioner, I would say to the players, I dont want you to show false emotion. But dont suppress the false emotion thats there. Be yourself.
Votaw is keeping his eyes on a definite set of prizes.
The benchmarks are, this year, 10 percent growth in television viewership and 15 percent in attendance.
That may take a change in approach from the players.
Each one will have to sublimate her interests to that of the organization, Mechem said, not to ignore those interests, but to enhance them on the theory that a rising tide raises all boats.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.