One thing the sports world needs more of is women like Carolyn Bivens. She brings to the 19th hole the kind of hard-charging, take no prisoners, winner-take-all business approach that deserves applause.
And, for a period of two weeks last August, she was my hero, sort-of, kind of, maybe! At least she was until she caved into the politically-correct, whining, angry foreigners who lambasted her decision to suspend LPGA Tour players who cannot speak English well enough to be understood at pro-ams, in interviews or in making acceptance speeches at tournaments in the United States.
Carolyn Bivens oversees the longest-running women’s sports organization in the world – the Ladies Professional Golf Association – and despite the obvious fact that we are in a serious recession, her 2009 calendar shows an impressive 30 events scheduled ready to distribute $55 million in prize money. Bivens, whose background includes a stint with corporate America, was named Commissioner in 2005, becoming the first female and seventh Commissioner in the 59-year history of what has become the premier women’s sports organization in the world today.
Her reign, so far, has been successful, but it has also been filled with controversy, crisis, bloopers, bleeper’s and even a few memorable surprises. If only there was a video, because some of this stuff can’t be made up
Let’s start with the bold announcement shortly after taking control that the LPGA will institute a drug-testing policy for participants in LPGA Tour events beginning with the 2008 season. With that announcement, the LPGA became the first tour in professional golf to develop a protocol and to design a plan to administer a drug-testing program.
As we all know, over the past few years, the LPGA has developed a perpetual problem with kids trying to play golf better than adults. Every time we turn around there is another teeny-bopper trying to act like an adult, and adults usually don’t like it when they are beaten by kids in a game of high stakes, prestige and money.
In her first year on the job, Bivens, a/k/a the “queen of mean” rejected requests from three budding superstars to join the LPGA Tour before reaching the mandatory age of 18. Teenage phenoms Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel all made inquiries or sought exemptions to be card-carrying members of the LPGA Tour before age 18 and all three were issued the same response: No! No! and No!
She essentially said ‘grow up children, but come back and apply when you’re 18!’ There is nothing that compares to the impact of a dominant woman laying down the rules for one and all!
Now, we also know that whenever you have an organization made up of 500 women, there’s going to be some serious screaming, bitching, biting and nagging going on! Despite Annika Sorenstam’s class act for the past dozen years, some legends don’t appreciate where the Tour is headed and have not hesitated to speak out.
Hall of Famer Jan Stephenson sparked controversy in 2003 with her remarks “that the influx of Asian players was killing the Tour” and that the LPGA should consider quotas on foreign players. At the time, Stephenson was ostracized in public and accused of making racially insensitive remarks, although many of her associates, fans and corporate sponsors of the TOUR agreed with, her off the record.
The 2009 LPGA Tour currently has 45 players from South Korea and 121 players from 26 different countries. Nearly half of the top-25 players are Asian, including nine Koreans. Five are American, five from Europe and one each from Mexico (Lorena Ochoa), Brazil and Australia. Of the 21 rookies qualifying for Tour spots for 2009, in a class that includes Michelle Wie, 13 are Asian. And all four LPGA major championships were won by non-Americans this past year.
In one of the most dramatic finishes in golf history, South Korean Birdie Kim holed a sand shot on the final hole to win the 2005 Women’s U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado. She could not speak one work of English, not even “hello” or “thank you.”
So what does the USGA and LPGA do to try to promote the 2006 US Open at Newport Country Club? They ship in Birdie Kim to the June 2006 media day to try to communicate with her about her win the previous year. I was a witness that day. It was a disaster, an absolute debacle, and a true test of patience and silliness.
Where does the LPGA go from here? What should the aggressive and progressive Carolyn Bivens do to change things for the better?
God Bless Carolyn Bivens. She is one-of-a-kind and she should be enshrined into the LPGA Hall of Fame today.
Ms Bivens and the LPGA adopted a policy that will require its member golfers to speak English or face suspension. All players who have been on the Tour for two years could be suspended if they fail to pass an oral evaluation of their English proficiency starting at the end of the 2009 season. The Tour announced the policy to its South Korean membership on August 20, 2008.
The LPGA’s policy did not need much translation after the announcement since the Asian American community went into back flips and crazed chaos, condemning the possible suspension-penalty policy, which would affect many of its top players. The policy was modified after two weeks of public outrage but a small minority.
“The LPGA has received valuable feedback from a variety of constituents regarding the recently announced penalties attached to our effective communications policy. We have decided to rescind those penalty provisions,” wrote Carolyn Bivens, in a statement available on the LPGA website. “After hearing the concerns, we believe there are other ways to achieve our shared objective of supporting and enhancing the business opportunities for every Tour player. We will continue communicating with our diverse Tour players to develop a better alternative. The LPGA will announce a revised approach, absent playing penalties, by the end of 2008.”
Almost makes me wonder if the video store had a tape of this stuff, the title would be: “Girls Gone Wild – Golf Edition.”
(Tom Gorman, a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, International Network of Golf and Golf Travel Writers of America, is a Boston-based freelance golf writer.)