Candidates emerge for next LPGA commissioner

By Randall MellJuly 22, 2009, 4:00 pm
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.
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McIlroy pleased with opening 67 at BMW PGA

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 4:47 pm

While a short miss on the final green denied him a share of the clubhouse lead, Rory McIlroy had plenty of reason to smile after opening the BMW PGA Championship with a 5-under 67.

McIlroy won the European Tour's flagship event in memorable fashion in 2014, erasing a seven-shot deficit on the final day. But the West Course at Wentworth has otherwise been a house of horrors for the Ulsterman, as he missed the cut in his three other appearances since 2012 and has played the course in a combined 10 over in his eight career appearances.

This marks his first return to the event since 2015, and he's now one shot off the early pace after a round that at times offered glimpses of his commanding form from recent years.

"I think I did everything pretty well," McIlroy said. "I drove the ball much better, put the ball in play off the tee a lot more than I've done the last couple weeks, so that's been really good. I thought I gave myself a lot of chances, and I took most of them."

McIlroy started slowly, and a bogey on No. 9 after a poor approach from the middle of the fairway meant he made the turn in just 1 under. But he got that dropped shot back on the next hole, then added birdies on Nos. 14 and 16 to climb up the leaderboard. He appeared poised to add at least one more tally, but was unable to birdie either of the two closing par-5s at Wentworth including a miss from inside 4 feet on No. 18.

"A little frustrated that I couldn't get a birdie or two out of the last couple holes, but overall a really good start," he said.

Making his first start since a missed cut at The Players Championship, McIlroy sits one shot behind Darren Fichardt, Dean Burmester and Lucas Bjerregaard with hopes for "more of the same" from his game over the weekend on a course that has often had his number.

"If I can hit the ball like I did today over the next three days, I think I'll be right there," McIlroy said.

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NCAA Women's takeaways: Heartwarming for Haley

By Ryan LavnerMay 24, 2018, 4:33 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – Before Karsten Creek is officially handed over to the men, here are some parting thoughts from the NCAA Women’s Championship, which saw Arizona defeat Alabama in an extra-holes thriller:

• A team of destiny, maybe not, but there was an unmistakable sense from speaking to other coaches that they wanted no part of Arizona after Bianca Pagdanganan buried that 30-footer for eagle on the final hole of stroke play. The Wildcats played with an edge, and without fear, after barely sneaking into the match-play field – and that’s a dangerous combination for opposing teams.

• It was heartwarming to watch Arizona’s Haley Moore sink the clinching putt, a 4-footer for birdie that gave the Wildcats their third NCAA title (and first since 2000). She’s had an interesting career, from making the cut at the ANA Inspiration at 16 years old to dealing with some less-than-welcoming teammates in Tucson. Her coaches refer to her as a “gentle giant,” but her wild swings in emotion on the course are difficult to manage; she so desperately wants to play well for her team that she puts undue pressure on herself to perform. That’s why Wednesday’s result was so important. “It gives them a little extra belief in themselves that they didn’t have before,” Arizona coach Laura Ianello said.



• That Alabama’s Lakareber Abe even pushed the anchor match into extras was somewhat of a surprise. She missed a 5-footer on 16 that would have given her a 1-up lead with two holes to play, and she also hit a pair of shanks (or semi-shanks) on both Nos. 13 and 17 that would have destroyed most players’ confidence. Instead, she stepped up on the par-5 18th and hit the second-most impressive shot of the championship, a roasted 3-wood to 12 feet to set up a two-putt birdie and sudden-death playoff.

• The pace of play at the NCAA Championship was, in a word, dreadful. Yes, the final day of stroke-play qualifying is the most intense day of the season, and it’s staged on the most difficult course they’ll play all year. But rounds can’t take six hours to complete, nor should the championship match go for 4 hours and 45 minutes in regulation. (They had time for maybe two more playoff holes before sunset.) In most cases, there was way too much over-coaching, and it’s something that needs to be addressed by the NCAA.

• The curse of the medalist continues. UCLA extended a run of misery for the top seeds after stroke play, as the Bruins made it 0-for-13 for both the men and women. If there’s any team that can snap the streak, winning both the stroke- and match-play portions, it’s Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are the prohibitive favorites at nationals this week, and not just because they’re playing on their home turf. Don’t be surprised if they take the stroke-play portion by as many as 20 strokes, which will only ratchet up the pressure in match play.



• In one of the tightest races in recent memory, your trusty correspondent voted for Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho for the Annika Award, given to the top player in the country. Kupcho didn’t have the most wins – that was Arkansas’ Maria Fassi, with six. She didn’t have the most consistency, either – that was UCLA’s Lilia Vu, who didn’t finish outside the top 6 in the regular season. But Kupcho earned my vote for one simple reason: No player went into this season with the specter of having blown an NCAA title a year ago. In 2017, Kupcho had a two-shot lead heading into the 71st hole and made triple bogey to lose by one. All she did this year was rip off three wins in her last four starts – including regionals, where she set a school scoring record and sank the clinching birdie to push Wake into nationals, and then went wire-to-wire at Karsten Creek.

• Depending on your rooting interests, Arizona either won a thriller … or top-ranked ’Bama lost it in gut-wrenching fashion. The 18th green afterward is always a surreal scene: One team chanting and dancing and crying, while a few feet away the other five players are absolutely devastated. The trophy presentations are difficult to watch, with the five losing players and two coaches enduring a 20-minute ceremony. While Arizona whooped it up beside them, the Tide stood silently, holding their NCAA runner-up trophies, politely clapping and generally looking as though they’d rather be anywhere in the world but there.

• UCLA’s Patty Tavatanakit and Arizona’s Pagnanganan were the two most impressive players this observer watched last week in Oklahoma. The sound coming off their clubfaces was just different. They look like not just future LPGA winners, but possibly major champions.



• Alabama junior Cheyenne Knight is turning pro, and it’s a bit of a head-scratcher. Sure, she was a first-team All-American once again, but she also was the third-best player on her squad this season (and it wasn’t particularly close). It leaves a hole in the middle of coach Mic Potter’s lineup, and the void could grow even wider with standout Lauren Stephenson (fresh off recording the lowest single-season scoring average in NCAA Division I history, 69.5) expected to enter the LPGA’s new qualifying series in the fall. It could be the Kristen Gillman Show in 2018-19, and she’s ready.

• Duke senior Leona Maguire capped her remarkable college career with a quarterfinal exit in match play. She leaves as one of the best players not just in Duke history but in all of college golf, a two-time Player of the Year and the owner (at least for now) of the lowest scoring average in NCAA history. The only thing she didn’t do? Win a NCAA title, either with her team or as an individual, despite staying in school all four years. She’ll be an intriguing player to watch at the pro level, because Duke coach Dan Brooks believes she can be a future Hall of Famer.

• If you’re still griping that match play doesn’t crown the best team all season … well … just stop. The nonstop drama of Arizona-Alabama is exactly why the NCAA switched to head-to-head match play. It’s not going anywhere.

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Bifurcate to make game easier for amateurs

By Phil BlackmarMay 24, 2018, 1:01 pm

In January of 2017, Golf Digest ran a story about the average driving distance of amateurs. If you missed the article (click here to read it), the numbers may surprise you. It conveniently breaks down the results, both by handicap and by age, to provide a more detailed view of what golf is really like for the majority of players.

I recently ran across the post again and couldn’t help myself; hence this article. The average driving distance on the PGA Tour is around 295 yards, with the leader in the 320-plus range. Per the article, low handicap players top the list at 250 yards, while the 10-19 handicapper – average player – drives it around 215. That’s a big difference.

Bifurcation, the hotbed topic which ignites division among golfers at a level nearly on par with our nation’s current political weather, keeps banging at my door. Frank Nobilo recently said something to the effect that “the average player has never been further removed from the professional game.” I agree.

The most common argument against splitting the rules is that golf is one game – where amateurs and professionals, alike, play the same game. But, do they really?

The “regular” tees on many courses today have been stretched to around 6,500 yards, while the PGA Tour average is over 7,400. Most courses keep greens soft and running around 10 on a stimpmeter (I know, you’re course prides itself on 14’s) while the average on Tour is 12 1/2. Even with the Tour’s comparative lack of rough, it’s still deeper and more penal than most courses opt for, day in and day out.



Tour players also compete under the watchful eye of a staff keen on strict adherence to the rules, while a large percentage of average players are unfamiliar with many of the rules (Me, too; they keep changing). One other thing: Tour players have to count every shot they hit, finish every hole and there are no gimmes nor mulligans.

Add the distance pros hit the ball and it’s easy to see they play a different game. If you disagree, take the time to play a “Tour” course from the tournament tees right after a competition and see what you can shoot.

Putting that argument aside, it occurred to me that I’ve been looking at this from the wrong angle. My reasons for bifurcation have had more to do with protecting my view of the integrity of the game rather than what would be best for the average player.

The guys on the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour (LPGA and PGA Tour Champions, too) can really, really play. Last week, I watched a 36-year-old unknown player who had never won on either tour shoot 27 (with a bogey on the front-nine, par 35) in route to a 60. Then he came back two days later with a 28 on the same nine. He won on the Web.com Tour.

Science has unlocked many of the mysteries of the game. Club and ball technology have prompted a benefit for athleticism like never before. Biomechanics, video, launch monitors and force plates have combined to create a huge pool of players with very good swings. Did I mention that they can really play?

However, taking advantage of all this technology requires hours in the gym every day, hours on the range every day, hours on the course every day, and hours in the laboratory on a consistent basis. How many amateur players have the time and money to do all this? That’s right, not most. That’s why the median 10-19 handicap player averages 215 off the tee. They just don’t receive nearly as much benefit from today’s technological advancements as does the touring pro.

So, instead of penalizing the professional player for working hard and taking advantage of all that is available today, my argument has shifted to wanting bifurcation in order to make the game easier, less costly and quicker for the average player.

My idea for the average player begins with distance; the game is too darn long. Think about it: If a player gives up 80 yards off the tee and 45 yards on a 7-iron (180-135), it makes sense that this player should play from 7,400 – ((80 X 14) + (45 X 14) + (4 X 50)) = 5,450 yards to relate to the tour game. Even for the player who averages 250 off the tee and 160 with a 7-iron, the same reasoning yields a 6,400-yard course, give or take a little. But I’m not stopping there, equipment rules need to be relaxed as well.

For instance, the allowable trampoline effect for amateurs should be increased with a focus to fit slower club-head speeds. The limit on the size of the club head needs to be removed and larger grooves for more control and spin should be allowed. Ball limits should be relaxed so the player with lower club-head speed gets more benefit from new ball technologies.

Courses also need to quit watering so much, which would yield a more natural look as opposed to playing in the botanical gardens. This will allow the ball to run out more, effectively shorten the course and open up more options for how to play a shot or hole. Running the ball up on a green or down a fairway needs to return to the game. Rough needs to be eliminated; it’s supposed to be a game rewarding angles not just penalizing off the mark shots. It would also be great to see tree branches trimmed up, when possible, to allow for windows of opportunity and artistry instead of simply creating pitch-out masters.

There will always be the faction that consider themselves purists, which is great. Let major amateur championships stick to the stricter set of rules.

Wait, you could even go as far as to make it a different game altogether and give it a different name, flog for example. That way you don’t need different sets of rules for the same game; each game can have its own set of rules. Tennis is seeing a shift to include pickle ball, maybe golf embraces flog. You could go to the flog course instead of the golf course.

You could even have the USFA, United States Flogging Association, established for the advancement and preservation of flogging, tasked with protecting the game’s original vision of a fun, cheap game which plays quick and embraces imagination and artistry. I think you would be surprised how much you would like flog.

Anyone care to go flogging Saturday?

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LPGA Korean event gets sponsor, new venue

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 24, 2018, 12:21 pm

BMW Group Korea will be the title sponsor of the LPGA’s new South Korean event scheduled for next year. 

The event will be played at LPGA International Busan in the port city of Busan in October of 2019. It’s the first LPGA golf facility to be opened outside the United States, with the golf course scheduled to be ready for play in the summer of next year. The LPGA announced in a news conference in Busan in March that the course would host a new event with the title sponsor to be named at a later date.

BMW Group Korea will give South Korea two LPGA events in the fall Asian swing. The KEB Hana Bank Championship is played in Incheon in October.

The Busan event will feature a $2 million purse with a first-place check of $300,000.

Formerly Asiad Country Club, LPGA International Busan is a renovation being managed by Rees Jones. The golf facility’s opening will mark the first of several projects the LPGA plans in the region, including the opening of an LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Center and the establishment of an LPGA regional qualifying school.