Struggling LPGA has new wind its sails - COPIED

By Randall MellOctober 1, 2009, 6:57 pm

PRATTVILLE, Ala. – Nobody’s 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.

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, the 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 updated them on negotiations with Exxon Mobile to become presenting sponsor of the LPGA Championship and a larger charitable program supporting the empowerment of women. 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. Hall of Famer 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.”

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 Rubic’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.

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

Getty Images

McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

Getty Images

Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

Getty Images

Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.