2005: Our Opinion - Bivens’ first test

LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens may possess limited knowledge of golf and golfers, but she certainly demonstrated a stroke of political genius by organizing the “Phenoms to Professionals: Successful Transitions” forum that was slated for Dec. 7in New York.

The forum convened officials from 15 sports leagues – including the NBA, NHL, Major League Soccer and the WTA Tour – and child development specialists to discuss the ramifications faced by teenage athletes who feel compelled to turn professional.

It also conveniently provided Bivens with ammunition to back up whatever decision she makes when Morgan Pressel petitions her to overturn the ruling made by predecessor Ty Votaw to withhold full LPGA membership from Pressel until she turns 18 on May 23. The forum will guide Bivens, too, should she be faced with petitions by Michelle Wie and/or others for a similar waiver of the LPGA’s membership age limit.

Pressel’s convincing sixth-place finish at the LPGA Qualifying Tournament is sure to prompt the high school senior to ask Bivens to revisit Votaw’s ruling, on the grounds that Pressel – whose stellar amateur career included a runner-up finish at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open – proved without doubt that she’s ready and able to perform on the LPGA stage.

Votaw’s ruling was puzzling, to say the least. Pressel’s credentials and maturity matched that of Aree Song, to whom Votaw granted an age waiver in August 2003, when Song was 17. Though she hasn’t won, Song finished 28th and 59th in LPGA earnings her first two seasons, banking more than $621,000. Nothing Pressel accomplishes or earns before May 23 will count toward her 2006 totals.

Based on the Song precedent, a reversal by Bivens would make sense. However, the rookie commissioner’s credibility could come into question, because she has steadfastly backed Votaw’s ruling since her appointment. Already, many LPGA insiders are miffed by the ubiquitous presence of Bill Bivens, the commissioner’s extroverted husband, at her side. Appearing to waffle on the age limit would further damage Carolyn Bivens’ image as the tour’s new-era leader.

At least Bivens can be assured that the Wie implications are moot for the time being. Unencumbered by conflicting event regulations, nonmember Wie can more effectively cash in on her celebrity via appearance fees in Asia and Europe, while accepting her limit of sponsor exemptions on the LPGA and PGA tours. The rub will come should Wie win on the LPGA, or earn sums of “unofficial” money that would rank her among the tour leaders, before she turns 18.

And given Pressel’s circumstances – regardless of her status, she plans to play only four events before her high school graduation in late May – Bivens stands to gain more by sticking to her guns. It may not be fair, but it is expedient.

Besides, who ever said golf was fair?

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