LPGA players hopeful about future under new leader

July 18, 2009

 

Brittany Lincicome tees off on the 14th hole during the final round of the U.S. Women's Open golf tournament, at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa.


As the LPGA Tour searches for a new commissioner, Brittany Lincicome summed up the challenge her sport faces in a dismal economy.

"We need tournaments," said Lincicome, who won April's Kraft Nabisco Championship. "Even if we're playing for half the purses."

Carolyn Bivens resigned under pressure as LPGA commissioner this week, and Marsha Evans took over as an interim replacement. The tour's board of directors hopes to find a full-time commissioner by the end of the year.

Bivens was no stranger to controversy she was criticized last year when she proposed an English-only policy for tour players. Now, the LPGA's schedule is everyone's big concern. The number of official money events dropped from 34 in 2008 to 28 this year.

"The economy was not helping Carolyn at all," Lincicome said.

Bivens' tenure ended after a group of players wrote a letter to the board calling for her to quit.

"I believe 100 percent she had our best interests in hand," said Nicole Castrale, a 2007 Solheim Cup participant. "I believe that everyone involved just wants the best for our tour. ... I just think that it became alarming to the players that we were losing events so quickly."

When Lincicome won the Kraft Nabisco Championship this year, the winner's share was $300,000 double what it was at that tournament 10 years ago. That's a sign of progress, but Lincicome said she's not the only player who would be open to playing for less money in the short term, at least if it would help save events.

The average purse per event this year is $1.78 million, up from $1.31 million in 2004.

The tour says it has 13 events committed for 2010, including two that weren't on this year's schedule. The LPGA also says discussions are ongoing with 15 events from the 2009 schedule.

Still, McDonald's is no longer sponsoring the LPGA Championship, and Paula Creamer expressed concern last month about not knowing where the major would be next year.

Creamer, who is eighth on this year's money list, said in an e-mail this week it's important to strengthen relationships with sponsors.

"Over the past five years, I've learned that there are many different priorities, goals and expectations of our various sponsors. Charity giving at the end of the week is very important to many tournament owners and sponsors that have been with us for decades," Creamer said. "Other events have unique mission statements and objectives which are equally as important to them as well. Community pride, exposure, economic stimulation are just a few others."

Two-time U.S. Women's Open champion Meg Mallon called the LPGA "the best bargain in sports," but she's still cognizant of the financial concerns facing sponsors.

"Professional sports, especially golf, is a luxury. You don't underestimate that when businesses are looking at us," Mallon said last week. "I think the players are very concerned about their future, and I'm proud of them stepping up and taking an active role because this tour has always been motivated by the players, run by the players. When players take an interest, good things happen."

Lincicome said she hopes the full-time commissioner will come from a golf background. Evans, a retired rear admiral in the Navy, began serving on the LPGA board just this year. She was on an LPGA commissioner's advisory council in 2007 and 2008.

For now, she'll try to reach out to players and secure tournaments despite the economic climate.

"She definitely will command respect," Castrale said. "I know the economy is in a tough position right now. ... When it's all said and done, the sponsors see what we bring to events as players."

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Associated Press