Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Man's Business at the LPGA Jim Ritts Relishes His Role in Expanding Events as Head of the Ladies Professional Golf Association

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Man's Business at the LPGA Jim Ritts Relishes His Role in Expanding Events as Head of the Ladies Professional Golf Association

Article excerpt

In any interview with Jim Ritts, one question is almost sure to come up, namely: What's a man doing as commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association?

Mr. Ritts, an amiable native of Dallas with boundless energy, had a ready answer at the LPGA headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla.

But first a word or two of explanation: The LPGA was founded by a group of women players in 1950. In 1976 the group hired Ray Volpe as the tour's first commissioner. Four men followed Volpe before Ritts was named commissioner-elect in June 1995 by the LPGA board of directors. Wasn't it high time, though, for the longest-standing women's sports association to hire a woman leader? Ritts is the first to acknowledge that a woman could "easily" be commissioner. "But what I'm pleased about," he says, "is that when they were writing the criteria for the selection process, gender specificity was not a criterion.... I think it's to their credit." From what he's been told since, Ritts was among 100 candidates, 40 percent of whom were female, including one of the three finalists. Ritts says he never set out to become a commissioner of a major professional sport, but now is convinced that his previous 23 years of work experience in the communications and marketing/advertising fields were near-perfect preparation for the job. He began as a researcher for ABC Sports while still in college and most recently was co-founder and executive with education-oriented Channel One, formerly owned by Whittle Communications. Add these credentials to what he calls a "healthy respect and knowledge of golf" born of playing the game from a young age, and Ritts was the LPGA's choice to lead the tour into the 21st century. The association wanted commitment, and Ritts was able to give it, agreeing to stay on for at least 10 years. "I made the decision that this is not something I'm going to do at the end of a professional career, sort of the capping off. This is the business that I hope will be the professional hallmark of my career." Beyond the mere business considerations, though, Ritts wanted to make sure he could make an emotional commitment to the tour. To assess this, he and wife, Linda, an avid golfer, flew incognito to several tournaments. "I wanted to watch the players, the product of the LPGA, through my wife's eyes and mine," Ritts explains. "We watched them and asked, was there any evidence that they were spoiled professional athletes? Was I going to be involved with prima donnas if I became commissioner?" What they saw was entertainment and warmth, players who were extraordinarily skilled and worked hard at embracing their fans, whether talking to them around the tee boxes or stopping to sign autographs. "Very quickly I became evangelical about these players," Ritts says. "Very quickly I had an emotional commitment to trying to create bigger and better venues for them." Last month at the site of the LPGA's PING Welch's Championship at the Blue Hill Country Club outside Boston, Ritts enthusiastically reported that all the goals established for expanding the tour's presence have already been met well ahead of schedule. …

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