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U.S. Women's Open begins under cloud as several players call for LPGA Tour commissioner to resign

This week is supposed to be about the U.S. Women's Open, the third of four major tournaments on the LPGA Tour. But tour officials and players have been sidetracked by a brewing controversy.

Reports surfaced earlier this week that more than a dozen players sent a letter to the tour's board urging commissioner Carolyn Bivens to step down. That letter followed a dinner some LPGA members had with Bivens in Sylvania, Ohio, site of last week's Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. At the dinner, players aired their grievances about her leadership, especially the loss of seven tournaments since 2007 and the possibility the tour may have as few as 10 U.S.-based events in 2010.

LPGA spokesman David Higdon declined to comment about the letter. Higdon said the tour is focused "first and foremost" this week on the event at Saucon Valley Country Club. But he said the tour and its board take seriously any topic raised by the players.

"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," Higdon told the Associated Press.

According to Golfweek magazine, some players at the meeting last week were Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel and Natalie Gulbis, among the most prominent players in women's golf. Golfweek said players in favor of Bivens' resignation attached their names, although it didn't say how many signed it.

Bivens is a member of the board, which has received the letter.

In their letter, Golfweek said, players said the loss of tournaments cannot be blamed solely on the economy. They cited eroding relationships between sponsors and the tour, something sponsors have noted as well.

"I think the players have done a good job of expressing the way they feel," said tour player Angela Stanford, who was not at the players meeting and did not sign the letter. "Our player-directors have done a good job relaying that information.

"It's unfortunate there had to be a letter, but I know the LPGA is going to be respectful and handle this the best way moving forward for both parties. I have complete faith our board is going to do the right thing and do it in the most respectful way."

Bivens arrived at Saucon Valley Country Club on Wednesday, but Higdon said she would not be available to comment.

"This week we are focused on the U.S. Open and it's not an appropriate time to discuss internal LPGA matters," Higdon said.

"We all care deeply about the tour and are working hard for its long-term success."

Bivens took over for Ty Votaw in 2005 and has two years left on her contract. She has had a couple of public gaffes within the year. In August, Bivens demanded that Korean players on tour learn English or face disqualification from tournaments. She later softened on that stance.

And she offended Seoul Broadcasting Systems during this year's SBS Open in Hawaii when she announced the tour signed a new television contract with another Korean network. SBS pulled its sponsorship of the tournament and instead signed a 10-year contract with the PGA Tour. The LPGA does not have a Hawaiian tournament in 2010.

The U.S. Women's Open, which is not run by the LPGA Tour, is being played this week outside Philadelphia. After that, the tour will not have another tournament in the United States until the last week in August. The rapid decrease in tournaments has some players scratching their heads.

"We're getting to the point where we don't know who to believe, which is hard," player Katherine Hull told Golfweek. "When tournaments that have been very loyal to us start withdrawing, that's really a red flag to me."

U.S. Women's Open | Five to watch

1 Brittany Lincicome: The pride of Seminole, above, has already won a major this season (Kraft Nabisco), and U.S. Open courses favor players with distance and accuracy. The good for Lincicome is she is second in driving distance (272.9). The bad is she is 146th in driving accuracy (55.8 percent of fairways hit).

2 Jiyai Shin: She has earned more than $1 million this year and won twice, including two weeks ago at the Wegmans LPGA. She was third at the LPGA Championship, so she is sure to be lurking Sunday.

3 Lorena Ochoa: Granted, she has not been a factor in the previous two majors (tied for 12th, tied for 23rd), but she has won twice and is having another above-average season. She has won 26 times on the LPGA Tour, but she never has won this event. Expect her to be motivated.

4 Yani Tseng: Second on the money list, she has already won this year and finished tied for second and tied for sixth in her past two tournaments. Only in her second year on tour, she already has a major (2008 LPGA Championship) under her belt.

5 Inbee Park: The South Korean is the defending champion, but no player has defended their U.S. Open title since Karrie Webb in 2000-01. She is having a subpar year. Her best finish is a tie for 14th at the LPGA Championship. She'll have to get it in gear this week.

By the numbers

156: Players in the field.

26: Past USGA champions in the field.

21: Countries represented.

10: Players with the last name Kim.

14: Age of Alexis Thompson, the youngest player in the field.

7: Women's U.S. Opens played in Pennsylvania.

U.S. Women's Open begins under cloud as several players call for LPGA Tour commissioner to resign 07/08/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 8, 2009 9:12pm]
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