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Bivens out, Evans in as LPGA boss

By GENE YASUDA

Deputy Editor/Business & Multimedia

The LPGA Board of Directors appointed Marsha “Marty” Evans, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, as the tour’s acting commissioner, filling a void created by the forced resignation of Carolyn Bivens.

The announcement made during a media conference July 13 at LPGA headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla., marked the end of Bivens’ contentious four-year tenure as commissioner. A player revolt, which became public during the U.S. Open last week, resulted in a letter to the LPGA board seeking Bivens’ resignation.

Several of the tour’s top players, including Suzann Petersen and Paula Creamer, complained that Bivens’ hard-line leadership style had contributed to a dwindling tournament schedule. Since 2007, the LPGA has lost seven tournaments and six more are now sponsor-less.

Essentially, the vote of no confidence convinced the board and Bivens herself that she needed to step down, according to Dawn Hudson, the tour’s board chairman. Bivens did not attend the media conference.

In announcing the leadership change, Hudson continued to support Bivens and paid tribute to her accomplishments, including: a 10-year cable TV deal with Golf Channel; creating a new tournament in Los Angeles beginning 2010 with Korean broadcaster JBC, which also signed a lucrative TV deal with the tour. In addition, Hudson praised Bivens for bolstering the tour’s asset portfolio, including acquiring the Duramed Futures and gaining control of its own major, the LPGA Championship.

But in an obvious effort to repair relationships with tournament owners, sponsors and players, Hudson said new management would reach out to the tour’s many constituents. She described Evans, who was invited by Bivens to join the board this year, as someone “we know and trust.”

“As a board of players and independent directors, we wanted an acting commissioner with experience leading large organization, one who appreciates and listens to our player members and tournament owners, understands sponsors and their challenges and needs, and has a track record that commands respect,” Hudson said in a written statement. “We’re pleased that Marty Evans will be our acting commissioner, as she fits all the criteria necessary during these challenging economic times for sports leagues.”

Hudson said the tour already has established a search committee and hired an executive recruiter to find a permanent replacement. The tour is hoping to fill the commissioner’s post by the end of the year at the latest.

Meanwhile, Evans, who made clear she will serve only temporarily, brings impressive credentials to the tour. During nearly a 30-year career with the U.S. Navy, she became one of only a handful of women to reach the rank of rear admiral. She also has filled the top post at Girl Scouts of USA and served as president and CEO of the American Red Cross.

Evans didn’t hesitate to cite the tasks she plans to tackle immediately.

“In no priority order at all, certainly reaching out to the players,” Evans said. “This is an association for the players. The event sponsors and tournament owners. They are critical to our success. We have some in negotiation, some in the initial proposal stages. Those are all critical events to get signed and scheduled.”

Gail Graham, president of the Tournament Owners Association, said her membership was excited to work with the new management team.

The tour also made some other organizational changes: It appointed Annika Sorenstam as advisor to the LPGA Board of Directors, and promoted Zayra Calderon, the tour’s senior vice president of worldwide sales, to executive vice president, tournament development and worldwide sales. Known as an engaging relationship-builder, Calderon will oversee all tournament business affairs and is charged with, arguably, the tour’s top priority: Working with tournament owners and title sponsors to secure renewals, and landing new business partners.

In the end, Bivens’ deteriorating relationship with this vital constituency doomed her. She insisted that tournaments need to pay their fair share of event staging costs. But what was often described as her uncompromising demands, especially during difficult economic times, antagonized tournament owners. These conflicts overshadowed her long-term goals, which even most of her critics agreed were on the mark: Improve the tour’s financial health and deliver greater benefits to its players.

Though many won’t mourn the exit of the controversial Bivens, her supporters expressed dismay over what they perceived as an unfair dismissal.

“I’m going to remember her for being a visionary,” said Christina Kim, who serves as a player-director on the LPGA board. “She believed we should have health care and these things that you have at any normal job. She had so much passion for the LPGA.”

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