Votaw gains acclaim for status of LPGA
Ty Votaw pauses at the end of each year to assess the recent past and near future of the LPGA Tour he has guided since 1999. This time, he came to a startling conclusion.
The tour has never been better, and it's time for him to go.
Votaw, 42, said he will step down as LPGA Tour commissioner after the 2005 season, ending a seven-year tenure highlighted by a strong, secure schedule that offers more prize money than ever.
"I feel very much at peace with this decision," Votaw said. "I feel very good about having given the LPGA everything I've got, and I feel good about the results."
The LPGA has formed a search committee to find a successor.
The decision came as a surprise to several players, especially considering the state of the LPGA Tour.
Total prize money will top $45-million (all figures U.S.) this year. The tour's top player, Annika Sorenstam, is one of the world's most famous athletes, and the future includes such promising stars as 15-year-old Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer.
"Let's face it, it's not an easy job," tour veteran Dottie Pepper said. "But he left the organization in a lot better shape than he found it. A lot better shape."
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Votaw made an impact not only on the LPGA, but the golf industry.
"The LPGA is better off significantly having had his leadership the last six years," Finchem said. "I think he has maximized, if not 100 per cent, then close to 100 per cent of the product and has it going in a positive direction. He's had a lot of challenges, and he's done a very good job with it."
Votaw was 30 when he joined the LPGA as general counsel in 1991, and he realized that he will have spent almost two-thirds of his adult life with the organization when he steps down.
What better time to leave?
"It was a difficult decision simply because of the love I have for the organization," Votaw said. "But it was made easier by the fact that I think the LPGA foundation is so strong and the future is bright. I'm confident I'm leaving the organization in a better place than I found it."
The tour was on rocky ground when Votaw took over in 1999 for Jim Ritts, who tried to create as many tournaments as possible. Several of them had weak sponsorships, were played on weak golf courses and offered minimal prize money.
Votaw's mantra was "less is more."
The 2005 schedule has 32 tournaments, all but two of them with at least $1-million purses. Four of them will be worth more than $2-million, and the average purse is a record $1.4-million. And a tighter schedule has led to more top players competing in tournaments.
"He put the pieces back together," Pepper said. "From a solid sponsor and player relations, Ty mended a lot of fences. There were some very iffy tournaments when he came on board with short-term contracts, or in the case of one event, no contract at all.
"Every tournament we have now is on solid ground, and that's a huge testament to the way he conducted business."
A corporate lawyer by trade, Votaw rose through the LPGA ranks as special assistant to the commissioner and vice-president of business.
Players relied on him for a straight answer, and Votaw was responsible for getting the Solheim Cup on network TV. During his time as commissioner, the LPGA celebrated its 50th anniversary, and Votaw put together a Player Summit three years ago in Phoenix to make sure the women were doing all they could to maximize their exposure.
"I don't think anybody worked harder to do the right thing," Juli Inkster said. "Ty put a lot of heart into what he was doing."
But the focus will always be on the money.
Unlike the PGA Tour, the women do not have network contracts to guarantee massive purses. From its roots in 1950, the LPGA Tour has done everything on its own.
Total prize money has grown from $36.2-million in 1999 to $45-million this year. In Votaw's first year as commissioner, there were only 12 tournaments with purses worth at least $1-million, now there are 30.
And he has embraced the international influence on the LPGA Tour, treating it like a global tour by staging or sanctioning events in South Korea, Japan, France, Canada and England and two events this year in Mexico to take advantage of the growing popularity of Lorena Ochoa.
"Six years went by in the blink of an eye," Votaw said. "I never felt like the passage of time was something that was going to be daunting."
Votaw said he doesn't know what he will pursue when the year is over, and that he will treat his final year as commissioner no differently from the previous six -- making policy, building sponsorships, listening to players.
"He's a lawyer, so he's got a lot of options," Finchem said. "I hope one way or another he stays in golf."
There was speculation in November that Votaw would be a candidate to replace Jim Awtrey, the chief executive officer at the PGA of America. Votaw said then he had not been contacted and did not expect to be.
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