Originally created 05/16/02

Man with a plan



Annika Sorenstam shoots 59.

Cristie Kerr sheds 50 pounds and eight dress sizes.

Lorie Kane signs 100 autographs.

Dottie Pepper screams at her ball for 18 holes.

Jill McGill turns down a six-figure offer to pose nude for Playboy magazine.

This is the blueprint for the modern LPGA Tour.

The original President Bush had his "Thousand Points of Light" for building a better nation. LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw has his "Five Points of Celebrity" to transform women's professional golf into a more marketable sports entertainment commodity.

"These unique personalities are what make the LPGA special," Votaw said. "We have a tapestry of personalities on our tour that any number of different people can look at and relate to and say, 'I can root for her."'

The Five Points of Celebrity is Votaw's plan to make every LPGA player more marketable, and with them the LPGA. It was a plan he revealed in March at a players-only summit in Arizona aimed at developing a long-range strategic road map to bolstering women's golf.

Part of the business plan is the LPGA's downsizing, sacrificing quantity for quality. The tour dropped from 35 tournaments last year to 32 in 2002, but 25 offer at least a $1 million purse - 13 more than two years ago. Votaw wants to boost purses, boost attendance and boost television ratings every year of his five-year plan.

That's where the Five Points of Celebrity - performance, approachability, joy and passion, relevance and appearance - enters the equation as the centerpiece of a more fan-friendly LPGA Tour.

"It's a great basis for every player to work toward improving all five of those aspects," said fifth-year pro Heather Daly-Donofrio. "If we all did it and every single player on the tour could get good at those five points of celebrity, we'd have an unbelievable product to give to sponsors."

There was a time when the LPGA believed all players needed to do was play the best golf they could and everything else would take care of itself. But clearly that wasn't the case or the LPGA would be experiencing a ratings boon from Sorenstam's mastery much like the PGA Tour has with Tiger Woods.

Votaw realized the players had to do more than rely on their clubs to do the talking. They had to be more well-rounded representatives of the women's game.

To hammer home his point, Votaw invited Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez to address the 178-player membership. Lopez is what every LPGA player aspires to be.

"If you want one person who encompasses all the five points, it's without a doubt Nancy Lopez," Daly-Donofrio said. "All we had to do was stand her on a podium and say if we all could be like Nancy this tour would do amazing things. I don't think anybody else has come as close to embodying the whole package."

In today's LPGA, that person might be Sorenstam. There's no argument she's the most dominant player on tour, but the somewhat reserved Swede has noticeably worked on her approachability and off-course style.

Sorenstan believes Votaw's initiative has already had a positive impact.

"It was definitely the right thing to do," she said. "We'll see what kind of results we get from that. Hopefully the fans feel they come first and we can attract more people. That's really the main goal, to make the LPGA grow in different ways."

While performance is the key, most of the focus has been on the appearance point. It's been blown into a full-scale "sex appeal" issue advanced by Laura Diaz last season and fostered by McGill's consideration of a Playboy poll that led to an invitation to pose nude in the men's magazine.

But appearance isn't all about sex appeal. It's just about being appealing.

"You can be an attractive woman without being drop-dead gorgeous," Daly-Donofrio said. "You can have the power to attract people with your smile or your personality. I think some of the most attractive people in this world you wouldn't have on the cover of magazines because they're not model-like."

Votaw's plan isn't an attempt to force players to be something contrary to what they are. Shy players struggle with being emotional. Foreign stars are less comfortable being approachable.

"You can't make somebody something that they're not," Kane said. "There are 144 players out here and a 144 different ways to approach people. All of us show all of those qualities in a different way."

That's where relevance comes in. Relevance is being identifiable with fans. Maybe it's Betsy King's Christian values or Juli Inkster's working mother lifestyle or Kerr's reinventing herself through intense workouts and dieting. Those traits identify with somebody, and the LPGA wants those traits to receive greater exposure.

"To get to know the tour as a whole they need to start learning about No. 60 and No. 90 on the money list before maybe one day they become No. 1 on the tour," Daly-Donofrio said. "It's our job to step up to the media a little bit better so that they'll put us in the paper a little bit more. Really, the media can make us or break us. We have to realize that and do better so that the media will want to showcase us more."

Votaw preaches patience. The players are listening, but it will take time before you can evaluate whether or not the Five Points produce more LPGA celebrities.

"The pipeline is getting filled in terms of a lot of new and exciting faces," Votaw said. "We're not going to live and die in the first six weeks after the summit. We want the needle to move over five years. This is not a sprint, it's a marathon for how we evaluate success."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.