Open Fire Players Take Aim

By Randall MellJuly 9, 2009, 4:00 pm
2009 U.S. WomenBETHLEHEM, Pa. ' Helen Alfredsson marched out of the scoring trailer early Thursday afternoon at the U.S. Womens Open with more to worry about than her game.
The dynamic Swede has navigated her share of crazy days but few quite like this one.
With two early birdies at Saucon Valley Country Clubs Old Course, Alfredsson jumped onto the leaderboard, only to nosedive off it with two triple bogeys and six bogeys.
After signing for a 10-over-par 81, Alfredsson left the scoring trailer with more daunting work to do than merely fixing her swing.
Shes faced with the giant job of helping fix the LPGA with news breaking Thursday that the tours commissioner is being forced out.
Alfredsson barely had time to digest her round as she marched to the clubhouse enduring a reporters short inquisition.
She was asked what she knew about Sports Business Dailys report that LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens was agreeable to a buyout and that the tours board of directors had authorized a golf industry expert to contact potential candidates to replace her. Later in the day, Golf World would report that a general agreement on terms of a separation was reached late Wednesday night and that Bivens was definitely out as commissioner.
As one of seven player directors on the LPGAs board, Alfredsson must deal with the aftermath of the player revolt that led to Bivens ouster. Bivens has two years left on the contract renewal she signed last year.
Ive been on the phone every single day this week, said Alfredsson, who would confirm none of the news reports. Were just trying to get through this week and then weve got some decisions to make.
Like who will be the tours next commissioner.
Never has a U.S. Womens Open felt more like a diversion from bigger news in womens golf.
The weeks stress and strain goes beyond golf shots for the five LPGA player directors in this weeks field and for the 15 players reported to have been behind a letter calling for Bivens ouster.
As a player director, as a person, I dont think the timing was very good, said player director Christina Kim, who managed to block out the controversy while shooting 72, good for a tie for 12th. Granted, people felt like it had to be done. I would never say they did it wrong, but it could have come at a better time. It sort of minimalizes, in the minds of the press, the importance, relevance, heritage, history and tradition of the U.S. Womens Open.
Kims reaction to news Bivens was working on a separation agreement?
Everything Carolyn has done is what she believes is the best thing for the LPGA tour, Kim said. If she feels this is the right thing to do, then its the right thing to do. If she feels in order to preserve the character of the LPGA its the right thing, I support her. I support every decision she makes.
Carolyn stood up for us as commissioner and said we are worth the sanctioning fees and the television fees she was asking. She had a great vision of where the LPGA should be. It was radical, but she believed we were worth it, that we should be at the top echelon of sports. She had full faith. She was very aggressive in wanting to elevate the tour to such a high level.
If the economy didnt turn the way it did, who knows? We might be bathing in pools of gold because of her. Who will know?
News broke last weekend that at least 15 LPGA players met at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic and prepared a letter to their board of directors asking for Bivens resignation.
The meetings lineup was impressive with Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel and Suzann Pettersen among those reported to be leading the rebellion. The players expressed concern over the loss of title sponsors and a shrinking schedule and their belief that the economy wasnt solely to blame, that Bivens business plan, her inflexible financial demands on sponsors, was a factor.
Its been a difficult tenure for Carolyn, and I feel badly for her, Meg Mallon, a two-time U.S. Womens Open winner, said after her round on Thursday. She came in and did what we asked her to do in making us a more fiscally strong organization. That being said, there are just so many more facets of the job that obviously have proven difficult for her to deal with.
Its been a tough road for her. I feel badly for anyone who has to go through learning things in one of the most difficult ways. It should be the greatest job in the world, and I feel badly it turned out not to be the best experience for her. My concerns now are about where we are going, how we recover from this and how we move on. Im not one of those players who says Im retiring soon and not worrying about it. I want to leave the tour better than when I came in. Well see what happens.
Dawn Hudson, the chairman of the LPGAs board, will direct the transition. She was in meetings Thursday afternoon and couldnt immediately be reached.
Three-time U.S. Womens Open winner Hollis Stacy believes players made a terrible mistake forcing out Bivens.
Stacy was so upset she hopped a plane in Denver and traveled across the country Tuesday. She came for the sole purpose of trying to persuade players that the ouster of Bivens could ruin the tour.
This is a big, big mistake, Stacy said. Unfortunately, these players are naive, and theyre wrong. They need to be called out.
Stacy believes the new business model Bivens created is smart and valuable and would build the tour a stronger financial future, even with Bivens struggling to renew sponsors and find new ones.
In the nine hours it took me to fly here, Ive gone through the whole spectrum of emotions, from being really upset to being bewildered and then sad, and finally to thinking, `Are these kids stupid? Stacy said. It breaks my heart.
Bivens, who succeeded Ty Votaw as commissioner in the fall of 2005, called her bold new business plan Vision 2010. She set out to make the tour more financially stable and to build pension and health plans. Initially, as part of that plan, she increased the tournament sanctioning fees the LPGA was asking from $15,000 to $100,000 and increased tournaments fees for television production costs. That didnt go over well with the tournaments asked to foot the bill.
Bivens bold strokes also included negotiating television agreements with Golf Channel and J Golf, a South Korean network.
Under Bivens, the LPGA took ownership of the McDonalds LPGA Championship and the ADT Championship, though those moves didnt come without controversy with the tour losing McDonalds and ADT as sponsors.
Still, Stacy, a business consultant and friend to Bivens, says the tour has already gone from barely covering its operational costs to a profitable business, even in these difficult financial times. She blames the sponsorship issues solely on the economy.
I lived on the tour for 26 years, and we were always struggling, Stacy said. Carolyn wasnt hired to be liked. She was hired to build the brand and make money and shes doing that. Shes building the brand globally.
If these players today want to go back to being the red-headed step child, and getting kicked around by the PGA Tour, just getting the scraps, and not having a pension, then, yeah, buy out Carolyn. But its a big, big mistake. I dont think these players understand weve had former players die near poverty.
Im behind Carolyn. Shes tough. Shes had to be tough. Women have been taken advantage of for years.
People who work for me, I dont want them playing nice. I want them representing the best interests of the players.
Stacy blames the player revolt on tournaments that didnt like Bivens negotiating tactics and the steeper asking prices required to fund the tours bolder ambitions.
A lot of this goes to tournaments whispering in the ears of players with great hearts who are worried about losing events, Stacy said. The players are being used. If these players want to go back to being second-class citizens, they can go ahead and let these tournaments run them. These tournaments arent interested in the players pension and health plans.
Gail Graham, the president of the Tournament Owners Association, disagreed.
All I can say is the Tournament Owners Association has taken a hands-off approach, Graham said. This is the business of the LPGA, and the players have spoken. Its not up to us.
In the end, those players spoke loudly.
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