Candidates emerge for next LPGA commissioner


LPGA Tour _newThe stakes are high as the LPGA steps up its search for a new commissioner.
With four months left in the 2009 season, just 14 tournaments are secured for next year. The future of 15 events on this years schedule still hangs in the balance with negotiations for contract renewals in uncertain dispositions.
Its an incredibly critically point in time for the LPGA, said Dottie Pepper, a 17-time tour winner, and Golf Channel and NBC analyst. The economic situation is a tough enough challenge but there is also strained relationships to deal with.
The next commissioners mandate will be all about securing tournaments and playing opportunities. Thats the message tour membership forcefully delivered in the letter that led to the ouster of its seventh commissioner, Carolyn Bivens. The player rebellion was fueled by dissatisfaction over the loss of so many tournaments and the players belief that Bivens approach strained important relationships. Their mandate requires a leader with special qualities given the depressed economic times.
The LPGA needs a creative business mind with healing powers and dynamic communication skills.
The players would like a leader who knows the art of the deal in business but has command of golf and the LPGAs unique culture and traditions.
It will take all that and more to rebuild relationships with tournament owners who believed Bivens was an inflexible negotiator who demanded too much of them financially.
The search firm Spencer Stuart has been retained to identify the candidates best equipped to meet the new commissioners challenges.
Given Bivens was the first woman to lead the 59-year-old organization, and given the fact that her all-female constituency booted her out, the natural question goes beyond whos the best person to succeed her; its whether the search will focus on another woman. Its whether following up Bivens failure by hiring a man hurts a larger cause.
I think with the last hire they wanted to make sure it was a woman, but they need to get the right person for the job, whoever it is, Pepper said.
LPGA leadership appears to be united on that front.
I dont think it matters, male or female, LPGA president Michelle Ellis said.
Sherri Steinhauer, the vice president, echoed that opinion.
Whoever meets the criteria for the next commissioner is the person who will have the job, whether that is a man or a woman is of no concern, Steinhauer said.
Hollis Stacy, the retired 18-time LPGA winner and business consultant who staunchly supported Bivens, has never shied from breaking with the pack, but she counts herself in the chorus on this issue.
I just want the right person, Stacy said.
That doesnt mean Stacy doesnt consider gender an issue when it comes to who will best serve the LPGA.
I just dont want someone who plans to meld the LPGA with the PGA Tour, Stacy said. I think that would be disastrous for womens golf. I know its been something thats been talked about for the past six, seven, maybe 10 years, but I think the LPGA would be second fiddle all the time if that happened. I want someone who will stand up for the players and who has a vision of the LPGA as a bigger, better tour.
With Marty Evans of the LPGAs Board of Directors stepping up as acting commissioner, there will be no hurrying the search. Dawn Hudson, the boards chairman, said the search could take until the end of the year while player directors say it could be as little as two months if the right choice leaps out early in the search.
The only voice thats spoken out so far in the belief that the right choice ought to be another woman is Bivens.
Bivens told the New York Times that she felt she didnt have the support of some LPGA players who wanted the tour to hire a man.
It was controversial among some of the players, Bivens told the newspaper in her only interview since she was forced out. They understood the world of sport and especially the world of golf was male-dominated. I found that strange, but a lot of them were up front about that.
I hope that breaking that barrier is something that my tenure is remembered for.
One of the things I have enjoyed in the speculation over the course of the last few days is that many of the candidates for my replacement are women.
Heres a look at women and men, industry insiders identify as strong candidates:
Cindy Davis: Nikes Golf Division president, Davis was the companys U.S. general manager for three years before being promoted in November of 2008. Before joining Nike, she was a Golf Channel senior vice president and held management positions with the Arnold Palmer Golf Company and the LPGA.
Donna Orender: President of the WNBA, Orender spent 17 years with the PGA Tour before taking the leadership role in womens professional basketball. She served for four years as the PGA Tours senior vice president of strategic development in commissioner Tim Finchems office. Before that, she ran the tours TV and production division. She was an All-American basketball player at Queens College and three-time All-Star point guard in the now defunct Womens Professional Basketball League.
Zayra Calderon: Just promoted to LPGA executive vice president of tournament development and worldwide sales, she takes over the key role of negotiating title sponsorship renewals as well as seeking new title sponsors. A former Cigna Healthcare executive, she went on to become owner of the Duramed Futures Tour and negotiated its sale to the LPGA. She almost has a chance to try out for the commissioners job in her new role.
Chris Higgs: An Octagon Golf executive, Higgs was the LPGAs chief operating officer for seven years before Bivens let him go near the start of this season. Given the controversy surrounding Bivens approach, Higgs departure wasnt viewed negatively in the business as he was quickly retained by Octagon. Hes credited as the architect of the Rolex Womens World Golf Rankings and worked with Jack Nicklaus Executive Sports and Golden Bear International before joining the LPGA.
Rob Neal: Executive Director of the Tournament Golf Foundation, which owns and operates the LPGAs Safeway Classic in Portland and the tours Phoenix event, Neal was the LPGAs vice president of business affairs from 1999-2005. Experience on both sides of tournament issues makes his resume appealing.
Paula Polito: Made her mark as a senior vice president at Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Development. Worked with Greg Norman in overseeing sponsorship of the Shark Shootout and has business ties with Annika Sorenstam. She was considered as a replacement for Ty Votaw before Bivens was hired in 2005.
Heidi Ueberroth: President of the NBAs global marketing partnerships and international business operations, Ueberroth helped oversee the NBAs television reach into 215 nations. Her father, Peter, was the former commissioner of Major League Baseball.