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LPGA Tour is in trouble

July 12, 2009
By ED PUSKAS Tribune Chronicle Sports Editor

IT'S sad, but since Annika Sorenstam retired, the only news the LPGA Tour has made came last week when some its players demanded the ouster of their commissioner, Carolyn Bivens.

The U.S. Women's Open concludes today, but the biggest news in women's golf is the squabble between some of the tour's top players and Bivens, whom they blame for the sorry state of the tour.

Today's LPGA is a far cry from a decade ago, when Trumbull County was a regular tour stop. Remember the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic?

Before the PONY softball national tournaments (which also disappeared), this area was home to the LPGA Tour from 1990-2004. Stars like Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb routinely played at Avalon Lakes Golf Course and Squaw Creek Country Club from year to year.

After the grocery chain chose not renew its tournament sponsorship, the event disappeared. There was talk of trying to find a new sponsor, but after Moira Dunn won the 2004 title at Squaw Creek, it was clear the Mahoning Valley was in the LPGA's rear-view mirror, and the tour wouldn't be back.

The tournament wasn't the first event to vanish from the LPGA schedule, and it wasn't the last.

Now, the recently completed Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic - played near Toledo for years - is rumored to be one of the next casualties.

The exodus appears to have cost Bivens her job.

Bivens, like former LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw, has blamed the economy for the demise of some events. Seven LPGA tournaments have folded since 2007.

But a group of players - reportedly including Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Lorena Ochoa, Cristie Kerr and Pak - signed a letter stating the economy can't be blamed for all the tour's issues and new leadership is needed.

Unless that new leader can convince Sorenstam to un-retire and clone Lopez to restore some of the lost interest in the LPGA, Bivens' departure isn't likely to fix anything in the short term.

There also is the issue of an ever-constricting economy, which means it's unlikely the trend of lost sponsorships and dying tournaments can be reversed.

Giant Eagle was among the first corporate sponsors to decide to commit its dollars elsewhere, and many others have followed suit. The LPGA's peak in popularity seemed to be from the mid-1990s to the early part of this decade.

Bivens, installed as the captain of a ship that has been taking on water ever since, replaced Votaw - a native of Salem - as commissioner in 2005.

She has been unable to breathe new life into the LPGA Tour, and instead has been a lightning rod for criticism, beginning with an ill-fated decision to introduce an English-only policy for players, and continuing through today as more and more corporate sponsors bail and tournaments disappear from the schedule.

But those issues began before Votaw left, and it's unlikely Bivens' eventual replacement will be able to reverse those trends.

The guy who gave up that tape so easily needs refresher classes in ethics and intestinal fortitude.

Even so, Nike made a huge tactical mistake by confiscating the tape. Demanding the tape just ensured that word of the dunk would spread like wildfire. I hope James wasn't responsible. It just makes him and the shoe company look bad.

High school football teams will be in the middle of two-a-day workouts in a month, and we're just six weeks away from Week 1 of the 2009 season.

What happened to summer? With the way the Indians are playing, you'd think the summer would drag on and on, but it's almost time for the Browns and Steelers to open training camp.

Thank goodness.

At least one media outlet has mentioned Fryman as a potential replacement for Indians manager Eric Wedge, if the Tribe decides to shake things up after the season.

I think Fryman could very well end up managing in the major leagues some day, whether it's with the Indians or another club. Remember, Fryman spent the bulk of his playing career with the Detroit Tigers.

Bottom line: Fryman has an old-school approach, relates well to young players and commands respect. If I was Indians general manager Mark Shapiro and I was looking for a manager, Fryman would be on my list of potential interviews.

But I'm not Shapiro, which means you can't blame me for The Bullpen from Hell.



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