The LPGA is in "a lot bettershape" since the Salem native took the reins.
VINDICATOR STAFF/WIRE REPORTS
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 and a native of Salem, said Friday he would 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 this year. The tour's top player, Annika Sorenstam, is one of the world's most famous athletes, and the future includes such promising players as 15-year-old Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer.
"Let's face it, it's not an easy job," Dottie Pepper said. "But he left the organization in a lot better shape than he found it -- a lot better shape."
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."
'Less is more'
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 sponsorship, were played on weak golf courses and offered minimal prize money.
Votaw's mantra was "less is more."
The '05 schedule has 32 tournaments, all but two of them with at least $1 million purses. Four of them will be worth over $2 million, and the average purse is a record $1.4 million this year. And a tighter schedule has led to more top players competing in tournaments.
Five tournaments from the 2004 season will not be played in '05, including the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic, which ends after a 15-year run.
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.
Prize money grows
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.
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.
"Once I've accomplished those things, I'll be ready for the next chapter in my life, whatever that is," he said.
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