Jan Stephenson, the LPGA Hall of Famer, was driving to a business meeting in Tampa, Fla., earlier this week when her phone starting buzzing. "I was getting texts like crazy, and I was like, 'Wow, what has happened?'" Stephenson said.
As it turned out, a small group of elite LPGA players had called for the resignation of their hard-charging commissioner, Carolyn Bivens. But Stephenson's friends were doing more than just alerting her of the news. "They were all like, 'This is your chance to be commissioner,'" Stephenson recalled.
Commissioner Jan Stephenson?
"I would absolutely love that job," the 57-year-old Australian confirmed Thursday from her Florida office.
(Bivens has not yet resigned, but Golfweek has reported that the LPGA will not retain her for the final two years of her contract.)
Stephenson won 16 times on the LPGA Tour, including three majors, but she is perhaps best known for popularizing the tour through her sex appeal and steamy photo shoots in the 1970s and 80s. "I would do things differently than Carolyn," Stephenson said. "I've been on tour since 1974, so I've seen what works and what doesn't work."
If she landed the job, Stephenson said she would help second-tier tournaments stay afloat by instituting more creative, fan-friendly formats, including team play and mixing fields with senior legends like Nancy Lopez, or even male golfers from the Champions and Nationwide tours. Stephenson said she would also implore brand-name players to play a minimum number of smaller events and she believes that the players would happily comply for the greater good of the tour.
"That's one thing about the LPGA that is unbelievable to me: over the years when somebody was sick or something horrible happened, the girls rallied like nobody else," Stephenson said. "Everybody gets behind a cause and does whatever it takes. All you have to do is ask."
Stephenson, reeling off ideas like she was on a job interview, said she would also mine marketing and business development strategies from other sports and other golf tours. "I think if you reached out to the PGA Tour with an olive branch and said, 'We need your help,' I think you'd get it," Stephenson said.
Bivens has been criticized for her blunt, hard-nosed manner and the bullish approach she has taken to expanding the LPGA in a bearish market. The tour has lost seven tournaments since the start of 2007 and six more events are searching for sponsors. Another seven tour stops have expired or expiring contracts. Bivens has been cursed by a tanking economy, but Stephenson says the commissioner's aggressive initiatives which have included increasing sanction fees that tournaments must pay the LPGA have been the wrong strategy at the wrong time.
"I'm sure the commissioner was doing it for the good of the LPGA and the players, but you've got remember that these sponsors have been here to support us through thick and thin, and right now especially you've really got to make them feel good," Stephenson said. "Carolyn didn't do that.
"I love the fact that she's very straightforward and that she tells it the way it is. That's the way I am," Stephenson added. "But I've had a lot of dialogue with sponsors, and they haven't liked that tough approach. It's either her way or no way."