Project LPGA A Rescue Mission Update

By Randall MellOctober 1, 2009, 6:10 pm

LPGA Tour _newPRATTVILLE, Ala. – Nobody is delivering better in the clutch this LPGA season than Marty Evans.

The retired Navy rear admiral may end up serving as little as four months as acting commissioner, but it might be remembered as the most significant reign in the tour’s history.

Since taking over after Carolyn Bivens was ousted in a player revolt in July, Evans and her executive team have pulled the tour out of its dispiriting spiral.

When Evans took over, there was speculation that the LPGA’s downturn might require the tour to forge a partnership under the umbrella of the PGA Tour, merge with the Ladies European Tour or sell itself to IMG just to survive.

The tour was staggering from a series of blows with one tournament after another losing its title sponsor or failing to renew after contracts expired. Only 13 LPGA events were under contract for 2010 when Evans stepped into the job.

The tour was in peril.

Meg Mallon
Meg Mallon is one of the few players who has already seen an improvement. (Getty Images)

In 10 short weeks, Evans’ team has imbued tour members with the confidence that better days are on the way again. That’s no small accomplishment given the gloom that shrouded the tour upon Bivens’ ouster.

“There was a period of time where the direction the tour was being led wasn’t going to be a happy end point,” said Gail Graham, president of the Tournament Owners Association. “It wasn’t going to be good for anyone.”

While players will remain wary until they know who will be installed as the next commissioner, there’s a palpable sense of relief among them with the Navistar LPGA Classic beginning Thursday on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

“Marty Evans has been a tremendous stabilizing force for the executive team, staff and players,” said Heather Daly-Donofrio, a former LPGA president who serves as the tour’s player liaison. “I think that’s starting to resonate with sponsors. She’s helped create an atmosphere with quite a bit more optimism and less pessimism.”

Evans presided over a players meeting Tuesday night, her second since becoming acting commissioner. Her candid detailing of tour business is impressing players.

“I had one player tell me these are the best players meetings she has been to in 14 years,” said Meg Mallon, an 18-time LPGA winner.

Evans told players that the tour was preparing to announce that Navistar was renewing its contract as title sponsor with a one-year deal and a two-year option. She elevated player spirits telling them 18 contracts are already signed with tournaments for 2010, and she expects agreements with at least 24 tournaments next year. While that’s down from 27 this year, 34 a year ago, it was welcome news for players fearing a far darker future.

“She’s helped us get on the right path again,” said Lorie Kane, a four-time LPGA winner. “As a result, the incoming commissioner’s going to be on more solid footing with a better feeling for where we want to go.”

If Evans were interested in keeping the commissioner’s job, she would have substantial player support, but she consistently dismisses any notion she’s a candidate.

“I’ve already retired from the full-time work space,” she told GolfChannel.com. “While it’s been a great honor to be asked to come back to full-time work, it’s not on my, or my family’s, agenda.”

Evans, 61 when she stepped up as acting commissioner, will move back into her role on the LPGA Board of Directors when her replacement is named. Players are eager to know who’s being lined up and when the new commissioner will take over. So are tournament directors and title sponsors.

Evans told players Tuesday night that while the field of candidates is being narrowed, no hiring is imminent, according to sources familiar with her presentation. She didn’t specifically identify candidates, even to her membership, but industry insiders rank Peter Bevacqua, the U.S. Golf Association’s chief business officer, and Donna Orender, the WNBA commissioner, as favorites. Bevacqua and Orender did not return messages left with their assistants seeking comment.

“The search committee is working very diligently,” Evans told GolfChannel.com. “The committee has had scores of people referred, applications submitted. It’s really been a wide open search. What we’ve told them is to take whatever time is necessary for this critically important job. We will not bug them about hurrying up.”

The next commissioner still faces daunting challenges. With Lorena Ochoa’s play dropping off, the LPGA lacks a dominant star. With South Korea continuing to rise as the tour’s dominant force, there is a troubling disconnection with too many English speaking fans. With Americans struggling to win on the American-based tour, there’s a disconnection at home.

Still, Evans will turn over a foundation stronger than players expected. She’s doing so with her focus on winning over tournament owners alienated by Bivens’ hardball approach. Communication skills are proving Evans’ strength.

“Marty’s done a nice job reaching out and rebuilding relationships that desperately needed to be rebuilt,” said Judd Silverman, tournament director of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.

Evans takes care to emphasize that she’s not doing this work alone and relies heavily on her executive team’s expertise. Zayra Calderon, the tour’s new vice president of tournament development, is proving a vital member as the point person in title sponsorship renewals. Annika Sorenstam is credited with making an impact in her new advisory role.

Saving the 2010 season has really been about saving the tour with so many tournaments having already folded. McDonald’s, ADT, Michelob, SBS, Corning, Fields, SemGroup, Kapalua Resort, Stanford and Ginn have been lost as title sponsors for various reasons over the last two seasons.

Evans’ work has been fraught with tough compromises.

“Marty has embraced the acting commissioner’s role,” said David Higdon, the LPGA’s chief of communications. “She hasn’t taken the approach that we can wait for the next commissioner to make certain decisions. She’s made tough decisions.”

Evans signed off on purse reductions at this week’s Navistar LPGA Classic and last week’s CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge. Both purses were reduced $200,000 from what was announced at year’s start. She also signed off on the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic slashing its purse $400,000 to $1 million next year.

“We aren’t in the marketplace looking for $1 million tournaments, but we recognize that this year the adjustment makes sense,” Calderon said. “There’s a lot of love and romance between the LPGA and [the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic]. The LPGA is telling Toledo we really care what you did for us for these 26 years, and it matters to us enough that we are willing to accept a $1 million purse if we can continue this event and make the tournament viable to your community and the LPGA.”

 

Lorena Ochoa Canadian Open
Lorena Ochoa is a bright star for the LPGA. (Getty Images)

While skeptics might dismiss the sentiment as desperation, Evans defends it as fair and smart with so many communities struggling economically.

“There’s been a consistent message when I’ve posed questions to players about what they think about playing for reduced purses,” Evans said. “The answer is always, `Well, is the alternative not playing the tournament?’ When I say, in certain cases it definitely is, the universal answer is, `We want to play.’”

Evans’ mandate from players was to increase playing opportunities. She has been virtually omnipresent at LPGA events, making an appearance at every tournament but one since becoming acting commissioner. She said the experience has helped her appreciate the economic challenges secondary local sponsors are struggling with.

“We’ve heard time and time again how seriously communities were hit with the recession,” Evans said.

Evans’ team calls its approach a bid to return to the collaborative spirit the LPGA was built upon. Bivens supporters might call it a spirit of weakness, an approach that has made second-class citizens of female athletes. In this economic climate, Bivens’ approach wasn’t working and ultimately cost the tour more sponsorship monies than it added. The chief complaint tournament directors had with Bivens is that she didn’t really negotiate, or recognize the unique differences between tournaments. She imposed take-it-or-leave-it offers with escalating sanctioning fees.

“The tour had changed its business model to where it was all about brand and not about people or how people relate to their community,” said Linda Hampton, tournament director of the Wegmans LPGA. “It was like they were telling us we had to buy a Cadillac when we liked driving Fords.”

Negotiations to renew the Wegmans LPGA in Pittsford , N.Y. , was at an impasse under Bivens when the final putt dropped there in June. Evans and Calderon ultimately negotiated a new three-year deal with a three-year option with the $2 million purse intact. It was a critical first renewal for Evans’ new team.

“We never had a contract with the LPGA that wasn’t good for both us and the tour,” Hampton said. “At the end of the day, the contract [Bivens proposed] wasn’t consistent with past contracts that worked for both of us. It wasn’t a case where we didn’t want the tournament any longer. It was a case where there was just no relationship to have a dialogue.”

Evans and Calderon changed that.

“We are having very, very honest conversations,” Calderon said. “But we are a business as well, and we have fiduciary responsibilities to our members. I don’t think this is about anyone wanting to take advantage. It’s taking tournaments case by case, based on real, sound business information.”

The financial losses the LPGA will incur with a shrinking schedule may force Evans to make tough budget decisions before the next commissioner takes over. She didn’t indicate layoffs were imminent, but something’s got to give with less revenues projected next year.

“For sure, our bottom line is affected as we work in a collaborative way with tournaments,” Evans said. “It’s like a Rubik’s Cube trying to fit it all together. We are looking at more ways to be efficient and effective. It’s hard, but it’s no different from what CEOs in businesses around the world face.”

The downside to Evans’ limited role is that tournament directors and title sponsors know she isn’t long for the job. They learned during Bivens’ nearly four-year run that leadership styles change overnight, that business models can be overhauled and that trust is hard won and easily lost. There’s a wait-and-see stance being taken by tournaments wary of the economy and how a new commissioner will adapt to it. Navistar, Owens Corning and CVS/pharmacy demonstrated that in limiting their renewals to one year.

Tournament directors want to know if the spirit of collaboration will continue with a new commissioner.

“They’ve got to get this next hire right,” said Chris Higgs, the former LPGA chief operating officer who is now co-managing director of Octagon, which manages the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship and the Sybase Classic. “The LPGA needs strong leadership to create strong partnerships.”

The future of the LPGA depends on it.

Getty Images

McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

Getty Images

Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

 

 

Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.