DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Carolyn Bivens resigned as LPGA Tour commissioner Monday, bowing to pressure from players who were upset about the organization’s economic woes and her leadership.
Marsha Evans, a retired rear admiral in the Navy who also has led the American Red Cross and Girl Scouts of the USA, will take over as interim commissioner. She’ll serve until the LPGA board finds a replacement, which it hopes to do by the end of the year.
Bivens’ departure seemed increasingly likely after a group of players wrote a letter last week to the LPGA Tour’s board of directors calling for her to quit. Her uncertain status created a distraction over the weekend during the U.S. Women’s Open.
“We reached a point which made it difficult for Carolyn herself to see herself going forward and being able to lead in this environment,” board chairwoman Dawn Hudson said. “We had to change something.”
Hudson said Bivens’ resignation was a mutual decision between the former commissioner and the LPGA’s board of directors. She praised Bivens for helping the tour “think big” even as the economy worsened.
But Bivens’ four-year tenure also was plagued with difficulties and controversies.
The tour has lost seven tournaments since 2007, and last year Bivens was widely criticized when she proposed an English-only policy for tour players. It was never instituted. The LPGA includes 121 international players from 26 countries, including 45 from South Korea.
In October 2006, she was accused by officials of the now-defunct tour event near Atlantic City, N.J., of backing out on a promise to maintain a longtime event.
“I love the LPGA and have been proud to serve as its commissioner for the last four years. I am also proud of what the LPGA has accomplished during my tenure,” Bivens said in a statement Monday. “It is time to turn this organization over to someone who can build on the solid foundation we’ve established.”
Bivens’ supporters credited her with integrating another tour into the LPGA, securing ownership of the LPGA’s own major tournament, upgrading the quality of courses, increasing coverage of child care, implementing the first drug-testing program in professional golf and signing new television partnerships.
“Carolyn did a lot of great things. She tried to stand up for the LPGA, which no one has done in a long time,” said Juli Inkster, a tour veteran and member of the board. “I just think her delivery on the whole thing was not the best.”
Evans has limited experience in professional golf; she only began serving on the LPGA board this year and her only prior work was on an LPGA commissioner’s advisory council in 2007 and 2008.
She intends to stay in the job only while the job search for a permanent replacement continues. Her top priorities are reaching out to the players and signing up tournaments that currently are being negotiated despite an economic climate in which corporate sponsors are cutting costs.
“What I would hope during this period when I have the privilege of serving is that we can move beyond the controversies and really focus on the players,” Evans said.
LPGA player and board member Christina Kim said it has been a “very interesting last 10 days” juggling the U.S. Open with numerous conference calls about the LPGA leadership. But she was thrilled with Evans’ interim appointment.
“I haven’t met anybody more compassionate, more compelling and with more passion for the future of the organization,” Kim said.
The LPGA Tour also has appointed former star Annika Sorenstam as an adviser to the board of directors.
“She has relationships and a point of view about the golf world that I think will be helpful in some of our tournament negotiations,” Hudson said. “She is able to understand things from a player’s eyes but also understand from a business standpoint what some of the opportunities and obstacles are. She will be a sage voice in sometimes reconciling those two.”
Inkster said some tournaments that are in danger of being canceled can be salvaged.
“Sometimes when you send a different team, a different delivery, things can work out,” Inkster said.