Key LPGA players have spoken: It’s time for commissioner Carolyn Bivens to go.
As many as 15 top players met with player directors July 2 during the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic to discuss the state of the tour and its leadership.
A letter then was sent to the LPGA Board of Directors calling for Bivens’ resignation and an establishment of new leadership, a player who received a copy of the letter told Golfweek on Monday. Players stated in the letter that all of the tour’s problems can’t be blamed on a poor economy and expressed a desire to rebuild relationships with longtime sponsors. Those players in favor of Bivens’ resignation attached their names to the note. It was uncertain late Monday how many players support the resignation.
Messages left Monday with Bivens were not immediately returned. David Higdon, the LPGA’s chief of communications, said from Bethlehem, Pa., site of this week’s U.S. Women’s Open, that Bivens was unavailable. Higdon would not comment about the letter. The board has seen the letter, Higdon confirmed. Bivens is a member of the board.
The meeting – attended by such star players as Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Cristie Kerr and Natalie Gulbis – came on the heels of last week’s announcement that the Kapalua LPGA Classic, slated for Oct. 15-18, won’t be held because of a lack of a title sponsor.
It’s the latest blow to a tour that has lost seven tournaments since 2007, including three staged in Hawaii. Six more events are sponsorless, including this year’s China LPGA, an IMG-run event scheduled for the week after the now-defunct Kapalua.
“In the beginning of the year, I was like whatever,” Jeong Jang said of the tour’s early troubles. “Now, I’m really worried about it.”
At a general player meeting during the LPGA State Farm Classic in Springfield, Ill., last month, players were told that 10 contracts had been signed for 2010. Katherine Hull said tensions among the players “are mounting more every week.”
“We’re getting to the point where we don’t know who to believe, which is hard,” Hull said. “When tournaments that have been very loyal to us start withdrawing, that’s really a red flag to me.”
Gail Graham, a former LPGA player and current president of the Tournament Owners Association, said the tour needs to be more flexible in its negotiations, particularly with “bread and butter events” like the Wegmans LPGA and Jamie Farr.
“Something needs to give,” Graham said. “Whether that’s a change in leadership isn’t up to me or the tournaments. It’s up to the players.”
Bivens, who succeeded Ty Votaw in September 2005, has two years remaining on her contract. If her fate is left to be decided by the 13 voting members of the Board of Directors, players would have the upper hand if all seven were to vote as a bloc. The board has six independent directors.
A message left by Golfweek with board chairman Dawn Hudson was not immediately returned.
Bivens is expected to arrive at the U.S. Women’s Open in midweek.
“She won’t address any LPGA matters as we are on USGA turf,” Higdon said, “and we’re happy to be there.”
Contracts have expired for the Jamie Farr and Wegmans LPGA, two long-standing events. Wegmans tournament director Linda Hampton said the two parties are nowhere near making a decision about the Rochester event’s future. Farr’s 25-year run also remains uncertain.
“We have respect for (Bivens’) vision,” Hampton said. “What we have difficulty in is keeping pace with her vision, especially in this economy.”