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Mutiny at the LPGA; Controversy at the USGA

by Jeff Skinner

This should be a great week for ladies golf.  The US Women’s Open starts on Thursday at Saucon Valley Country Club in eastern Pennsylvania. The USGA has the course prepped for the world’s best golfers and thousands of fans will be waiting to cheer their favorites. This should be the ultimate showcase for women’s golf. Instead we are bombarded by stories of the ineptness of the LPGA’s commissioner and the controversial new method the USGA used to decide the field of players. As if this season hasn’t been bad enough, with losing sponsors and a spotty schedule and television coverage that is third rate, now the players are calling for the commissioner to resign and two of the biggest draws in women’s golf will be sitting at home during The Open. This could be a nightmare week for the LPGA, when it should be the highlight of the season.

According to reports, the players have sent a letter to the LPGA’s Board of Directors asking for Commissioner Bivens to resign. Many of her policies and initiatives have disappointed the players and they feel the tour’s dreadful condition is not all based on the poor economy. At the past two tour stops, The Wegman’s and The Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, the sponsors and the tour could not work out agreements to continue the events. Both weeks on television we saw Wegman’s officials and Jamie Farr himself voice their desire to continue sponsorships with the LPGA, but the LPGA left town without new contracts for the future. Could it be that Bivens is playing hard ball with these sponsors and they called her bluff? It looks like the players realize that the longer she is in control the more sponsors and tournaments they are likely to lose. This call for her resignation is a sign that the players fear for the tour and their livelihood.

If a full fledged mutiny at the LPGA was the only issue, the timing of The Women’s Open might be the cure, at least temporally. But, The Open has its own major controversy. Due to a change in the way the USGA has selected the field, some of the biggest attractions on the LPGA Tour will not be playing at this year’s Open. Natalie Gulbis and rookies Michele Wie and Vicky Hurst do not qualify under this year’s new criteria. If last year’s criteria was used all three would be playing this week. It sounds crazy, but Michele Wie deserves to be in the Open this year, as do Gulbis and Hurst. The USGA is only taking the top ten LPGA Tour money leaders as of June, 1st this year, instead of the top thirty five as they did last year. The three golfers all were in the top thirty five. There are 29 amateurs in the field. I know this is the “Open”, but 29 amateurs, and two of the biggest draws in ladies golf will be watching from home. The USGA missed it this year. Hopefully they’ll revisit this decision next year and possibly avoid a repeat of this unfortunate situation.

It should be a great week for women’s golf, but the LPGA and the USGA are sure making it tough.

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