Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Lopez right fit for LPGA

"My game isn't anywhere near where it needs to be to play, so I'm just supporting the tournaments," she said during an early-week conversation at Highland Meadows, home of the Farr Classic. "I've always loved coming to Toledo. The tournaments are up for new contracts, and I want to show my support and my hope that it can be done.

"The sponsors and tournament directors work so hard and they've been with us for so long; if they went away it would be heart-wrenching for me."

So, Lopez spent the last two weeks playing with sponsors in pro-ams and celebrity events, shaking hands, smiling, hugging old friends, schmoozing with Jamie Farr and Toledo tournament director Judd Silverman and their Rochester counterparts, signing autographs, walking the range and practice green to chat with LPGA players, and accommodating the media, something she has always done better than any golfer not named Palmer.

In other words, she spent the last two weeks doing what the commissioner of the LPGA should have been doing.

Hmm ... now there's a thought.

You've heard by now that about a dozen prominent golfers met one night last week at Mancy's Steakhouse and some of them signed a letter sent to the LPGA's board of directors calling for the resignation or removal of tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens.

Names of some of those in attendance have come to light - Hall of Famer and LPGA player director Juli Inkster, world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa, 2008 Farr champion Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel, Natalie Gulbis, Michelle Wie and Suzann Pettersen, the only one who thus far has publicly acknowledged signing the letter.

It hasn't been previously reported, but someone else was at the dinner meeting: Nancy Lopez.

The tour's all-time most popular player did not deny attending when asked about it Saturday afternoon near the skyboxes surrounding the 18th green at the Meadows. She did express dismay that the media had caught wind of it and that what she felt was an internal matter would become public knowledge.

Any further conversation was clearly going to be off the record. So she talked, and I listened. She talked about the tour's shrinking schedule, the economy, what she felt the tour should be - and its players would be - willing to do to support sponsors and salvage domestic tournaments. She kept talking, and it struck me Lopez would be the perfect commissioner to repair the current state of the LPGA. So I asked her if she'd want the job.

The question did not exactly take her aback, but it was also clear she had no intention of leaving her fingerprints on any palace revolt. She downplayed her business experience and said she would hesitate to be involved in a job that would often take her away from her family.

The latter would be a greater deterrent than the former, I'd guess. Lopez would be the perfect up-front face for the struggling organization and could hire all the business and legal types she needed to handle the technical aspects of contract negotiations with tournament owners, sponsors, networks, etc.

She would effectively represent the tour she loves and its players, who recognize her star factor and would trust her implicitly, while respecting both the efforts and problems of tournament owners who think the world of her. She would repair the damaged relations between the tour and its sponsors and bring both sides together in a manner that's mutually beneficial.

Insiders report that Bivens - who is expected to be at the U.S. Women's Open today to rally behind closed doors whatever support she has left and, perhaps, confront detractors who signed the letter - has no plans to resign. She has more than 18 months remaining on a recently negotiated contract extension, and it has been estimated it could cost $1 million to buy her out. That's a lot for the LPGA.

But the golfers have lost seven tournaments since the start of 2007, and six more events are currently without sponsors. Then there are seven more tour stops, including Toledo, with expired or expiring contracts. There isn't another full-field tournament, open to all tour members, on U.S. soil until the last week of August.

Part of Bivens' problem is the economy. But that's only part of it. Her cold and harsh business approach has done as much as money woes to sour tournament owners and sponsors.

That's where Lopez would fit perfectly. She would understand that the LPGA's commissioner works for the players and the tournaments, not the other way around.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

or 419-724-6398.

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