Votaw Leaves the LPGA Tour with a Window Seat
``I always sit in the aisle on my way to a tournament because I have work to do,'' he said that day. ``I get a window seat on the way home, because that's the time to reflect.''
There is plenty of time to reflect now.
When the last two players on the course shook hands Sunday at the Solheim Cup, that officially ended his 6 1/2 -year tenure as the LPGA Tour commissioner.
About the only thing that didn't improve was his golf.
``I don't think anybody is going to know, except for a few on the inside, what his passion was for this job, and how much he poured into it,'' Judy Rankin said. ``It's a hard job under the best of circumstances. I don't know where history is going to take this organization, but his years with the LPGA is going to mean a lot. It has been a pivotal time.''
The results are in the numbers.
There were nearly 40 tournaments when he took over, but only a dozen of them offered at least $1 million. In a smart move that was not universally popular, Votaw decided more meant less. He trimmed the fat off the schedule, leaving 31 events tournaments that now have an average purse of $1.4 million.
Votaw is most proud of a summit held two years ago in Phoenix, where he unveiled a plan to help the LPGA Tour grow by putting the fans first and by making the players more appealing. Rarely has he given a speech without mentioning the five points of celebrity -- performance, relevance, joy and passion, appearance and approachability.
One of his final acts brought some of the harshest criticism. Votaw proposed a radical change to the end of the season, setting up a playoff system for 32 women to qualify for the ADT Championship and paying the winner $1 million.
``With status quo, we become Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus -- a tired, analog entertainment -- as opposed to doing the things we need to become Cirque du Soleil,'' Votaw said in an interview last week. ``It's still a circus. It's still the same kind of entertainment, but it's more of a digital platform.''
Not that his 6 1/2 years left him holding his nose -- far from it.
An Ohio lawyer, Votaw showed up at the LPGA Tour in 1991 as a general counsel to work with former commissioner Charlie Mechem, get involved in sports and see where it might take him. He wound up with the second-longest tenure of the five LPGA commissioners before him, and more memories than he imagined.
``I think of him as one of the players -- not that he's a woman, but he was part of the gang, you know?'' Annika Sorenstam said. ``He could be in a coat-and-tie giving a speech, then sitting there in jeans and a shirt at a party with us.''
He was in jeans and a shirt at a pub in Wilmington, Del., three years ago, mingling with the players. At the table that night was Sophie Gustafson, with whom Votaw eventually became romantically involved. It might have been the toughest chapter in his career, as the LPGA board considered whether the relationship compromised his job.
The board saw no conflict.
``If they had a problem, we would have worked that out,'' Votaw said. ``Ultimately, they were concerned for someone to be happy, and they saw how happy I was with her.''
There were other moments with other players that he cherishes, too.
There was a roast for Votaw Saturday evening in Indianapolis. That morning, he was sitting below the bleachers around the ninth green when Laura Davies hit a 3-iron into 8 feet, an eagle that would allow her alternate-shot match to get within one hole. It was a tight match, full of tension.
Davies spotted him and walked over. She told him she couldn't go to the roast if she had to play that afternoon. Otherwise, she would be there with bells on.
``I was blown away,'' Votaw said. ``I told her, 'Get the hell out of here. Get back to your match.' That's what makes you realize this is a special place.''
Sorenstam made it that way, too.
Votaw realizes he was lucky to be commissioner when Sorenstam took the LPGA to new heights by shattering records and barriers. He lists her performance at the Colonial on the PGA Tour as one of his favorite memories.
``All the media coverage, all the conjecture of how she would do or wouldn't do, it seemed like a convergence of a lot of issues in terms of what this could mean for the LPGA and women's golf,'' Votaw said. ``It was irrelevant she missed the cut. It was irrelevant she shot 71-74. It was how she represented the LPGA.
``I would suggest since 2003 and the summit, the LPGA has been on a growth pattern,'' he said. ``But I think that was another afterburner.''
Sunday afternoon at Crooked Stick, he walked along the ropes with his 11-year-old son, Sam, as he watched Gustafson and Juli Inkster in the first singles match. While the Americans celebrated another home victory, Votaw disappeared into the evening with little fanfare and was headed home.
No doubt he had a window seat.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back
SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.
Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.
Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim.
Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.
Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026
SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.
“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.
“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.
In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010.
Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday
SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.
“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”
So was Woods.
DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.
“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”
Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.
“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.
“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”
Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.
“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.
“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”
Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time.
With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey
SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.
The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.
It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.
“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”
Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.
According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.
“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”
Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.
And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.
As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.
He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.
“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.
Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.
“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”
Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.
Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.
“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.
Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.