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.
Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test
One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.
Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.
"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."
Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.
"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.
Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.
"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."
Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage
Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.
Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.
Swipe to see what’s up in my world. It’s long-winded.... short version, we lost the baby. Had to share this since we had shared the news already. I know you’re all so supportive and kind. I just couldn’t face it before. Now let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming. #ihavealotoffeelings #andphotostocatchupon
“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”
The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.
“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia
This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.
The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.
Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.
The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.
A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.
And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.
Green jacket tour
Man of the people
Ace at 17th at Sawgrass
Departure from TaylorMade
Squashed beef with Paddy
Victory at Valderrama
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates:
No. 4: Dec. 13
No. 3: Dec. 14
No. 2: Dec. 15
No. 1: Dec. 18