July 6, 2009

Bivens Era To End

Multiple sources tell GolfDigest.com that Carolyn Bivens' four-year tenure as LPGA commissioner will end next week

According to sources, the biggest remaining question is whether Carolyn Bivens will resign or be fired.

According to sources, the biggest remaining question is whether Carolyn Bivens will resign or be fired.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Carolyn Bivens' tumultuous four-year run as LPGA commissioner will end early next week, multiple sources tell GolfDigest.com, the tipping point coming when the Board of Directors received a letter from some of the tour's top players calling for her resignation. Official word is expected after this week's U.S. Women's Open at Saucon Valley Country Club.

"The letter was a death sentence," one source within the LPGA told GolfDigest.com. "No confidence by the players is a dagger in her heart," said a second source, this one involved in tournament ownership.

Bivens has 18 months left on the three-year contract extension she signed at the beginning of 2008. Her salary, according to LPGA tax filings, is $500,000 a year. According to a source in tournament management, a general agreement with Bivens on financial terms was reached late Wednesday.

The only remaining questions surround when Bivens leaves office and how her departure is framed. "She's gone. It's just a question of whether it's a firing or a resignation," said one veteran player, a Bivens supporter. "And she doesn't deserve any of it."

The LPGA, its Tournament Owners Association, the Board of Directors and the players all deferred comment on the matter until after the Women's Open. Bivens did not respond to an email request for an interview nor to a message left on her cell phone. LPGA chief communications officer David Higdon said Bivens would not be granting media interviews. Board chair Dawn Hudson said she would not comment on the matter at this time.

The move to replace Bivens came as the 59-year-old association struggles with a dwindling 2010 schedule and many tournament owners blamed both the style and the substance of the Bivens' regime, which imposed increased costs on the events as a brutal recession ate away at sponsorship money.

In the letter, signed by Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Lorena Ochoa, Cristie Kerr, Se Ri Pak, Suzann Pettersen and Natalie Gulbis among others, the players called for the installation of temporary leadership while a search is conducted for a new commissioner. It was not clear who would serve as interim commissioner while a permanent replacement is found.

The letter, which came out of a meeting of about 15 players on the Friday of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, said the players were writing with "great reluctance" but that they were "extremely dissatisfied with the leadership of commissioner Carolyn Bivens" and called for her "immediate resignation." According to the letter, the players said they represented the "vast majority" of the LPGA members.

Bivens, who was to be on hand for Thursday's start of the Women's Open, notified USGA officials on Wednesday that she was not going to show up, according to someone familiar with the situation. Responding to persistent rumors about a buyout, resignation or firing, the LPGA released the following statement at midday Thursday:

"As we've said throughout the week, we want all of those interested in women's professional golf to focus on the play here at the U.S. Women's Open, which has started today and will conclude this weekend when the 2009 champion is crowned. Out of respect to the USGA and the amazing work that they've done and continue to do in producing and hosting this great event, we will not respond to media reports on internal matters related to the LPGA business. The LPGA players, staff and Board care deeply about our Tour, and we're all working hard to achieve the same long-term objective to grow our Tour. We look forward to a great week of golf."

Jack Benjamin, who ran the LPGA Corning Classic, which folded this year after a 31-year run as one of the LPGA's events with the best community support, said that by 2011 its overhead would increase by $675,000, a difficult figure even in a good economy. Corning had lost $500,000 in sponsorship support this year because of the recession.

While Bivens' business style was an issue for the sponsors -- the most common reference was to her "my way or the highway" approach to negotiations -- business substance was no small part, and many of those problems remain.

"This is a difficult economy and a lot of creativity on both sides is going to be needed to find a tournament business model that works," said a source involved in tournament management. Clearly, a change of commissioners does not mean all the tour's problems go away. The challenge of the 2010 schedule is the greatest in the 59-year history of the LPGA.