Marsha J. Evans may have interim attached to her new role as LPGA commissioner, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the vital work shes faced with over the next few months.
The retired Navy rear admiral is now in the business of bridge building.
Evans is charged with re-connecting the LPGA with tournaments and title sponsors.
They are the tours lifeblood and the work wont wait while the LPGA Board of Directors embarks on a thorough search for Carolyn Bivens successor.
When the LPGA announced Monday that the embattled Bivens was officially stepping down, Evans stepped up and into a role that might not last more than three months. Still, it will rank as three of the most important months in the organizations 59-year history. The tour needs strong leadership, and it needs it right now.
Nine title sponsors on last years schedule arent on the schedule thats penciled in for 2010.
SBS, Fields, Safeway, Corning , SemGroup, McDonalds, Ginn, Stanford and ADT were part of a healthy 08 schedule but wont be pumping any money into next years schedule.
At least four other title sponsors are up in the air over whether theyll renew contracts.
Thats 13 title sponsors, all of them connected to domestic events.
The tour could use a couple title sponsorship victories this summer to lift player morale and change some negative momentum.
It should be emphasized the LPGA isnt in danger of folding, but the loss of all those sponsorships is painful to tour pros who depend on playing opportunities.
In the end, no matter what players thought of Bivens tactics, that was the bottom line that led to her ouster.
The 15 or so players who penned their names to a letter devised over a dinner at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic almost two weeks ago would have tolerated the bad publicity that came with public relations missteps Bivens made over media image rights, the proposed English-proficiency standard and tweeting during competition. They werent going to tolerate the loss of all those sponsors when too many tournament directors were telling them that Bivens inflexible negotiating tactics were as much to blame as the economy. Thats why they asked for Bivens resignation.
You can add all the internal things in the world you want to the tour, many good additions, but nothing matters if you dont have strong tournaments and good schedules, because thats what drives the bus, Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said Monday before hopping onto a plane for the British Open.
So Evans charge is large in trying to repair wobbly bridges and build new ones.
Evans, who retired from a 30-year Naval career, was on the LPGAs Advisory Council for two years before joining the LPGA Board this year. Shes also held the top leadership positions for the American Red Cross and the Girl Scouts of the USA . Her endeavors havent been without conflict. The Washington Post reported she received a $780,000 buyout after her ouster from the chief executive position with the Red Cross three years ago. The organizations board reportedly had issues with her command and control management style.
I dont think you can get along in the corporate world without clashing with people, Rankin said. You do need a commissioner who will fight for you when its the right thing to do. Also, you need the ability to compromise.
Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, one of seven player directors on the LPGA Board, believes Evans is the perfect blend of tough and gentle to build bridges for the next commissioner.
She was everybodys first choice for this role, Inkster said. She has everything we need at this moment. While she has no intention of being the commissioner, she can help us out and steady the ship.
Shes a very good listener, very soft spoken, very knowledgeable. She fills a lot of the qualities we need right now. Shes a good people person, good with relationships, which is something we need to rebuild.
The good news for players is that tournament owners are encouraged by Evans and her interim team, which includes Annika Sorenstam as new Advisor to the LPGA Board of Directors.
Were eager to work with this group of people, said Gail Graham, president of the LPGAs Tournament Owners Association. Ive had some conversations with their staff, and theyre really wanting to focus on making sure there is good communication and relations, and that they can find a way of being flexible in negotiating issues and making sure we have a solid schedule in 2010.
Im pretty psyched. Weve seen things to make us believe that theres a lot of promise, even in this economy. Im not saying it wont be difficult as it plays itself out, but the optimism is a very, very good thing.
So let the bridge building begin.