LPGA Votaw's job as commissioner comes to an end

The Salem native spent 61/2successful years at the helm.
CARMEL, Ind. -- Ty Votaw had an aisle seat on his way to the U.S. Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge two years ago. His head was buried in a pile of work during the four-hour flight, so much that he nearly missed a spectacular view out of the left side of the plane as it cruised beside the peak of Mount Hood.
"I always sit in the aisle on my way to a tournament because I have work to do," he said that day. "I get a window seat on the way home, because that's the time to reflect."
There is plenty of time to reflect now.
When the last two players on the course shook hands Sunday at the Solheim Cup, that officially ended a 61/2-year tenure as LPGA Tour commissioner for the Salem native.
About the only thing that didn't improve was his golf.
"I don't think anybody is going to know, except for a few on the inside, what his passion was for this job, and how much he poured into it," Judy Rankin said. "It's a hard job under the best of circumstances. I don't know where history is going to take this organization, but his years with the LPGA is going to mean a lot. It has been a pivotal time."
The results are in the numbers.
Cleaned up schedule
There were nearly 40 tournaments when he took over, but only a dozen of them offered at least $1 million. In a smart move that was not universally popular, Votaw decided more meant less. He trimmed the fat off the schedule, leaving 31 events tournaments that now have an average purse of $1.4 million.
Votaw is most proud of a summit held two years ago in Phoenix, where he unveiled a plan to help the LPGA Tour grow by putting the fans first and by making the players more appealing. Rarely has he given a speech without mentioning the five points of celebrity -- performance, relevance, joy and passion, appearance and approachability.
One of his final acts brought some of the harshest criticism. Votaw proposed a radical change to the end of the season, setting up a playoff system for 32 women to qualify for the ADT Championship and paying the winner $1 million.
"With status quo, we become Ringling Brothers and Barnum & amp; Bailey Circus -- a tired, analog entertainment -- as opposed to doing the things we need to become Cirque du Soleil," Votaw said in an interview last week. "It's still a circus. It's still the same kind of entertainment, but it's more of a digital platform."
Not that his 61/2 years left him holding his nose -- far from it.
Began as counsel in 1991
A lawyer, Votaw showed up at the LPGA Tour in 1991 as a general counsel to work with former commissioner Charlie Mechem, get involved in sports and see where it might take him. He wound up with the second-longest tenure of five LPGA commissioners and more memories than he imagined.
"I think of him as one of the players -- not that he's a woman, but he was part of the gang, you know?" Annika Sorenstam said. "He could be in a coat-and-tie giving a speech, then sitting there in jeans and a shirt at a party with us."
Votaw realizes he was lucky to be commissioner when Sorenstam took the LPGA to new heights by shattering records and barriers. He lists her performance at the Colonial on the PGA Tour as one of his favorite memories.
"All the media coverage, all the conjecture of how she would do or wouldn't do, it seemed like a convergence of a lot of issues in terms of what this could mean for the LPGA and women's golf," Votaw said. "It was irrelevant she missed the cut.
"I would suggest since 2003 and the summit, the LPGA has been on a growth pattern," he said. "But I think that was another afterburner."
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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