There is one member of the LPGA that the PGA boys will never have to worry about: the commissioner. Ty Votaw is a hacker on the course, but he's done wonders for women's golf since taking the reins in 1999.
The LPGA has been on a roll lately. What's behind this?
It's all part of a five-year plan we put in place a few years back. Our players are the most-approachable athletes in all of sports. We told them that in order to make themselves even more successful they needed to be more mindful of their celebrity. It's about performance and showing the relevance of what they do and showing that they enjoy it. When I became commissioner in 1999, we had twelve events with $1 million or more in prize money. Today we have twenty-seven, and three with purses of more than $2 million. This is the second year that every sponsor from the previous event has come back for the following year.
How much of the attention is because of Annika Sorenstam playing against the men?
We've been very supportive of every player who has decided to do that. Annika, Suzie Whaley and Michelle Wie created a greater interest, awareness and fan base for golf in general. Anyone who makes their living in golf wants to see that.
What's your take on Michelle Wie?
Michelle is a very grounded young woman who has very loving and supportive parents. One of the things that's endearing about her is that she does not see boundaries in what she can accomplish. Michelle has no mind-set of limitations, and that's empowering. She's also inspiring a generation of young women.
It seems like distance is no longer the issue for women.
Distance was not a factor for Annika or Michelle. The vast majority of predictions about how these women would do turned out to be wrong. I'm bemused and bewildered that people had to see that to realize the talent we have in women's golf.
How'd a guy get to run the LPGA Tour?
Luck, I guess. I was practicing law in Cincinnati, and the CEO of one of the companies I represented was Charlie Mechem. Charlie became LPGA commissioner in 1991, and he asked me to be general counsel. I was then made special assistant and then vice president of business affairs. I had exposure to every aspect of the organization, so in 1999 the board decided to make me commissioner.
Are you a player?
Juli Inkster likes to say I'm a much better commissioner than I am a golfer. I love to play. I started when I was around fourteen, but I played much more basketball and baseball. I played on public courses once or twice a month in the summer and never had formal lessons. I'm a twenty handicap. I'm not ashamed to say that. I'm living proof that you don't have to be a good golfer to succeed in the golf business.
You got some headlines a year ago because of your relationship with a player, Sophie Gustafson. Any comment?
We are still together. Sophie is a wonderful person. Beyond that . . . that's all I'll say.
Will there ever be just one golf tour?
I don't know. People used to say women shouldn't run the marathon, and now the difference between the elite male and female is only about eleven minutes. There are always going to be physical differences relative to frame and muscle mass that will have some competitive impact, but who's to say what the next generations are going to produce?Besides, when a woman who weighs 110 pounds hits it 300 yards, it's remarkable.
What will you do if Annika retires?
For years, people asked me when we'd get a player who could capture the imagination of the public like Tiger Woods. Now I have one, and people are asking me what we'll do if she retires. The pipeline is filled with players: Se Ri Pak, Grace Park, Lorena Ochoa, Aree Song, Suzann Pettersen, Beth Bauer, Natalie Gulbis, Laura Diaz. But who will become an Annika is too difficult to say.
Have you ever played PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem?
I played with him at Whistling Straits. He's a much better golfer than I am. I think he was two or three under after six holes, and I told him that if my players saw me play that well, they'd think I'm not working that hard.
Did he let you play from the red tees?
No. We played from the same tees.
Scorecard TY VOTAW
BEST SCORE 89
FAVORITE COURSES Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, CA
MEMBERSHIPS Oceanside Country Club, Ormond Beach, FL
EQUIPMENT Callaway woods, Ping driver, irons and putter