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.
Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas
Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.
Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.
McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.
Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?
Memo to the golf gods:
If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?
Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?
It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.
With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.
It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.
We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.
We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.
Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.
Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line. Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.
We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors.
In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.
While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.
Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.
Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.
Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.
While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.
Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.
So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?
McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever
With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.
The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.
Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.
"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."
McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.
But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.
"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."
What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire
Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.
Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft
Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft
Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft
Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x