BETHLEHEM - Almost from the moment that Carolyn Bivens succeeded Ty Votaw as the LPGA's first female commissioner in 2005, it seems controversy has become one of the organization's ongoing themes.
Just ask the folks at the Jersey shore who used to run the highly successful Shop-Rite Classic, which for whatever reasons became defunct for another tournament that lasted all of 2 years.
Last month, the final McDonald's LPGA Championship was held at Bulle Rock, ending a 29-year relationship with the Golden Arches brand. Starting in 2010, the LPGA will own and operate its flagship event, although as of yet there's no date, course or presenting sponsor in place.
No announcements are expected until November, when the rest of the schedule is made official as well.
Obviously, the economy has created an uncertain climate. The LPGA has lost seven tournaments since 2007. But maybe bad timing isn't the sole reason.
Or at least that's what some prominent players apparently believe. They're also questioning their leadership.
Welcome to the latest speed bump.
On Monday, Golfweek magazine reported that a group of players met during last week's event in Sylvania, Ohio. The list included Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel and Natalie Gulbis. They, along with what was believed to be 10 others, reportedly sent a letter to the LPGA Tour's board urging that Bivens resign.
Which brings us to the U.S. Women's Open, which tees off tomorrow on the Old Course at Saucon Valley Country Club. It's the third major of the year, and the most coveted title in the women's game.
And nobody wants this story line to overshadow it.
Bivens, who chose to speak to the media only through a spokesperson at the LPGA Championship, will not arrive here until tonight. And, once again, we were told she won't be making herself available to address this subject or anything else.
David Higdon, the LPGA's chief communications officer, issued this statement from Bivens yesterday: "This is an important week for the players and the LPGA, and we're focused first and foremost on the U.S. Women's Open. The LPGA, players, staff and Board all care deeply about our tour, and we're working hard to achieve the same long-term objective to grow our tour. It's not in the best interest of women's golf to openly discuss internal matters, but you can rest assured that the LPGA and its Board of Directors consider any topic raised by the players seriously since we are a players organization.
"There are always differences of opinion on business matters, and as they arise, we resolve them as best we can in order to further the business of the LPGA. The LPGA Tour is an exciting, vibrant tour, and that will be on display this week here at the U.S. Women's Open."
Attempts to find Pressel following her morning practice round were unsuccessful; Gulbis isn't here; Ochoa and Creamer will do their formal interviews today.
Of the 29 events on this year's schedule, 11 will be played outside the United States. After this week, the next time the women will play in this country is the last week of August. Over half of the current title sponsor contracts are in their final year, but Higdon stressed at the LPGA Championship that the organization is confident many if not most of those will be renewed.
Still . . .
"We're getting to the point where we don't know who to believe, which is hard," 6-year LPGA veteran Katherine Hull told Golfweek. "When tournaments that have been very loyal to us start withdrawing, that's really a red flag to me."
The majority of players asked yesterday chose to take the higher road, mostly out of respect to the U.S. Golf Association, which conducts this championship.
Kerr began her news conference with a statement of her own: " . . . I cannot comment on matters pertaining to the LPGA operations, as I do not have an official capacity to do that. What I will say is that our player organization is very focused on how these difficult economic times affect our tour, and we are actively working with our executive board of management to create the best product for our partners and fans, so let's talk about the U.S. Open this week. Thank you."
Afterward, when asked if her name was indeed on the letter, she wouldn't comment. But she did say: "We're all very unified in trying to make our tour better, and look at every possible opportunity from top to bottom."
Bivens has 2 years left on a contract that supposedly pays her about $500,000 per year.
Helen Alfredsson has been around for almost two decades. So she has seen a lot. She said she wasn't at the meeting, even though a reliable source said otherwise. She also is one of seven players on the 13-member board. So her opinion is rather relevant.
"I think, until we find out what's really going on," she began, choosing her words carefully. " . . . I think it's something that needs to be dealt with, between us first and then we'll make some comments later . . . We're going to have to see what's really behind all this."
Angela Stanford, who is seventh on the money list, was willing to address the situation.
"To be perfectly honest, I don't know what's going on," she said. "I know about the letter. I know some players went to dinner. I wasn't invited. I didn't need to be.
"The players have done a good job of expressing the way they feel. It's unfortunate there had to be a letter. I know the LPGA will be respectful of both parties. I have complete faith the board will do the right thing.
"I want what's best for this tour. This is my ninth year [out here]. But who am I to say what's best? At the same time, losing tournaments is tough on players. Whether you're 22nd or 122nd. It's tough for everyone. All of us wants what's best."
But would she have signed the letter if she'd been asked?
After a thoughtful pause she said, "I can't answer that."
Soon, somebody will have to. *