1) The perception, in what is still a male-oriented national sports consciousness, that women can't play excellent golf. "We never hear, 'You have a great game,' " says Patty Sheehan, LPGA Player of the Year in 1983. "We hear, 'Your game is boring. It's not as good as the men's.' We are waiting for the time when being the greatest women players in the world will be enough." Adds LPGA Hall of Famer Carol Mann, "An incredible number of people still think women pros play like the ladies at the country club."
2) Corporate America, the goose that lays golden golf balls, has gone crazy over the men's tours but remains lukewarm toward the LPGA. According to Special Events Report, a Chicago-based newsletter, last year corporations poured more than $100 million into the PGA Tour and $32 million into the Senior tour while investing only $25 million in the LPGA. Lack of corporate funding has cost the LPGA vital television exposure, which in turn has hampered its ability to spotlight new stars.
3) Persistent claims, particularly in golf's powerful old-boy network, that many women players are lesbians. "The only thing you ever hear about the LPGA is that at least 30 percent of its players are gay," says Terry Kassel, a New York sports marketing executive who was the only woman among the finalists for the commissioner's position. Others close to the tour, including some players, put the percentage higher. In the ultraconservative, commercially oriented world of golf, "the image problem," as LPGA officials quietly refer to it, is no small handicap.
Laupheimer was not entirely unsuccessful in dealing with these issues. A former executive director of the USGA, he was chosen to run the LPGA on the strength of his administrative skills. He established an all-exempt tour and a pension fund for the players. Under his regime, prize money grew from $6.4 million in 1982 to $12.4 million last year. "We had more integrity under John than we've ever had," says Kathy Whitworth, the 30-year veteran who is currently president of the association.
But while Laupheimer was overseeing modest growth, the PGA and Senior tours were exploding. Many players and sponsors began to consider his Philadelphia Main Line, buttoned-down style out of step in a world in which aggressive marketers control the sports dollars. "We need a guy who can walk right into a boardroom, look the chairman straight in the eye and feel very comfortable," says JoAnne Carner, one of the five players on the eight-person committee that selected Blue. "We never felt John was that guy."
"I'm happy for the LPGA that Laupheimer has decided to move on," says Lynn Smith, a vice-president of the Mayflower moving company, which last year withdrew its sponsorship of the 13-year-old Mayflower Classic in Indianapolis when the company failed to reach an agreement with the LPGA on a TV package. "John wasn't a dynamic deal maker. If he had been, we might still have a tournament."
Laupheimer, who has joined IMG, the sports marketing giant, acknowledges that the LPGA will benefit from new leadership. "The tour needs someone else to take it to the next plateau," he says. But he also refuses to second-guess himself. "I can't think of anything I would do differently," he says. "The reality is that women's golf is more difficult to sell than men's golf. If what our players wanted was more sales, more tournaments and bigger purses, we gave them that. The LPGA is not a troubled tour. That's nonsense. It is in a spot right now where it will go on and prosper."
Laupheimer has many defenders, including Don Stirling, whom Laupheimer hired in 1987 to be the LPGA's first director of marketing. "John is more substance than style," says Stirling, who left the LPGA last fall to join NBA Properties. "He lost the confidence of the membership, in part, because he was so honest about what the LPGA is up against. No one knew the limitations of the LPGA better than John Laupheimer."
When Laupheimer became commissioner in 1982, Lopez was winning fans with her play and personality, and the LPGA was attracting attention to the sport with a marketing strategy that promoted sex appeal over athleticism. But as Lopez's domination waned and the LPGA reconsidered its sexy marketing approach, the momentum was slowed and gradually gave way to ennui. Sheehan struck a nerve when she announced at a 1986 press conference, "We need to have more pizzazz."
Undoubtedly, something has been missing, for the LPGA's star quotient has stagnated. Lopez, Stephenson and Carner (Big Momma) remain the most identifiable players, while mainstays like Ayako Okamoto, Betsy King, Jane Geddes, Pat Bradley and Sheehan have not stirred interest. Potential stars like long-hitting Laura Davies (New Big Momma), 1988 leading money winner Sherri Turner, and U.S. Open champ and Rookie of the Year Liselotte Neumann haven't been seen enough to be widely recognized.