Votaw Faces Criticism Head On


LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw found himself dead smack in the center of two raging controversies in women's golf last week. That he managed to handle both with uncommon good grace was much more than remarkable.
First there were Jan Stephenson's near-sighted observations that top Asian players on the LPGA were 'killing' the tour by not making themselves more readily available for promotional purposes. Then, late Sunday, Sophie Gustafson won the Samsung World Championship in Texas amid charges that she had committed a rules infraction that went unpunished during the final round.
Votaw and Gustafson have been an 'item' for some time now and share a close personal relationship. Which normally should be nobody's business but their own except for the conspiracy theorists who would posit the notion that Gustafson got a good ruling Sunday because her boyfriend runs women's professional golf.
Dottie Pepper, an LPGA player of no small influence, dismissed those charges against Votaw as rubbish. But Pepper also told The Golf Channel that Stephenson's subsequent apology about her remarks was 'hollow.'
So by the time I reached Votaw in Daytona Beach late Sunday there were fires to put out everywhere he wanted to look. I was fully prepared for a string of 'no comments' from Votaw. Instead, he openly and candidly addressed the issues.
On the subject of the people who wanted to see a conflict of interest inherent in his relationship with Gustafson, Votaw said: 'They see conspiracy theories and shadows. And they don't know our (rules) officials very well. Talk about dancing on the head of a needle. People want to go from Point A to Point Z without stopping at Point B or C.... If I made a ruling that helped Sophie, how long do you think it would have taken for people to come after me?'
The NBC Sports take on the subsequent decision not to penalize Gustafson was highly critical. 'Unfair,' Votaw said. 'But they (NBC Sports) are in the business of calling live TV. They thought she (Gustafson) grounded her club.'
Former Chicago White Sox owner, the late Bill Veeck, used to say any publicity is good publicity. But the Stephenson and Gustafson imbroglios appeared not to be cases in point. 'Life can be a disinfectant,' Votaw countered. 'The Asian hemisphere is a very important business impactor on the LPGA. A growing segment of our on-site attendance is made up of Asians. The statement made by Jan was regrettable. But it provided an opportunity for us to point out just how important Asians are to the LPGA.'
Endearingly, Votaw refused to apologize for his relationship with Gustafson. 'Somebody shot 64 and won an LPGA tournament,' he said. 'That's good. The fact that it was somebody I care about is nice.'
One of the sad aftereffects of the injection of massive amounts of money into the world of professional golf has been a reaction among too many of the sport's leaders that is cold and corporate. When hot button issues arise, they choose to stonewall. Votaw's humanism in responding to last week's brush fires was refreshing. Sure, he spun the interpretations in a way that put the LPGA in a good light. That's part of his job.
What he didn't do is remove himself from public view and go into a private shell. For this, Votaw is to be commended.
'I'm fair game each and every day,' Votaw said.
It goes, he knows, with the territory.
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