The New Commish
Jim Ritts, the newly selected LPGA commissioner, placed two golf shoes, one his size, 8�, and the other a size 16, on the table in front of him at a press conference last Thursday. "I have no illusions," the 41-year-old Ritts said, "that I can fill Charlie Mechem's shoes." But the fact is that a lot of people are hoping he can.
Ritts was meeting the media at LGPA headquarters in Daytona Beach with his predecessor, Mechem, who is actually a size 9. A marketing whiz with no sports management in his otherwise impressive r�sum�, Ritts had been at Whittle Communications since 1984. There, as executive VP for marketing, he cofounded Channel One, the national current-events news program for schoolkids that was Whittle's most profitable—and most controversial—enterprise. Ritts's marketing savvy seems to have appealed most to the search committee.
Starting with 100 or so candidates—of whom 40 were women—the committee pared the list to 15, including Barbara Littrell, the publisher of McCall's magazine, and Jane Evans, a former VP for US West. By mid-April there were three finalists: Jack Frazee, former chairman and CEO of Centel Corp.; Merrily Dean Baker, former No. 2 at the NCAA and before that the athletic director at Michigan State; and Ritts.
Frazee, 51, is well connected in the business world, but he also has some baggage—he belongs to Chicago's all-male Old Elm Golf Club, from which he refused to resign to curry favor with the committee. Gail Graham, who led the search committee, insisted that "the committee had made up its mind without considering all that." Frazee's candidacy may have suffered more as a result of some infighting. A small but vocal faction of players led by Cindy Rarick, whom Frazee signed to an endorsement contract when he headed Centel, lobbied the search committee hard on Frazee's behalf, but their politicking may have proved more grating than ingratiating.
The candidacy of Baker, 52, may have been more a concession to having a female finalist than anything else, though Graham contends the search was "non-gender specific."
Ritts's only professional sports experience was working as a football statistician for ABC Sports while he was an undergraduate at Texas in the mid-'70s. Ritts does, however, have a clear idea of what he wants to emphasize when he takes over as commissioner at the end of 1995: sponsor-related opportunities and increased brand identity through licensing and promotion. Making his ideas into reality will be the test, of course, of whether he can fill those big shoes.
Mark O'Meara will be vacationing either in Bermuda or Key West this week, one of the many big-name PGA Tour players who failed in their attempts to qualify for the 95th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y. O'Meara, former Masters champion Craig Stadler, 1995 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Lanny Wadkins, 1994 British Open runner-up Jesper Parnevik and former U.S. Open champion Larry Nelson were not among the 72 exempt players in the Open field and did not advance through 36-hole sectional qualifying last week at 13 sites around the U.S.
O'Meara, who won the Honda Classic in March, is exempt for the British Open at St. Andrews, and he feels a Tour victory in the year between U.S. Opens warrants an exemption. His argument falls on deaf ears at Golf House, the USGA's headquarters in Far Hills, N.J.