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The LPGA's case of not biting the hand that feeds?

While CME Group chairman Terry Duffy expressed disappointment in players not attending a tournament sponsor dinner, some The First Call readers point to a failure in leadership

CME Group Tour Championship
Pajaree Anannarukarn, of Thailand, strides during the first round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida.

Question of the week [Nov. 28-Dec. 4]: Prior to the LPGA's season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, CME Group chairman and CEO Terry Duffy expressed his disappointment that no players attended the tournament's annual leadership conference dinner. Outside of playing in pro-ams, should players be expected to attend tournament sponsor events?

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Absolutely, yes. It is a request of the sponsor, who happens to put forward a significant amount of money and time that allows the event to happen. It should be a required obligation organized by the LPGA Tour on a "player revolving" system. Sponsors who get upset ... disappear.

Peter Boyce
Strathroy, Ontario

CME Group chairman and CEO Terry Duffy was put on the spot and embarrassed when, in recognizing players during his dinner, no one stood up. No one was there. In my opinion, the wrong question is asked, as I believe the LPGA leadership should know of expectations from Mr. Duffy prior to the dinner. A responsible leader would have gotten with Mr. Duffy to find out his plans, especially if it involved any recognition of the players. And even more especially since CME Group is one of the largest, if not the largest, sponsors for the LPGA. My question would be, "How many players should the LPGA have at that dinner?"

But to answer the directed question: Yes, players should be expected to attend tournament sponsor events when it’s the largest tournament sponsor on tour, and when the host expects players to be in attendance.

Thomas R. Jennings
Winder, Georgia

LPGA players are in no position to snub or disregard corporate outings from sponsors that provide so much funding to this financially flailing league. The golf is great, but the interest is simply not there for this Tour to be self sustaining to the point it can afford the luxury of blowing off these type of sponsor activities.

If the LPGA Tour deems this a sufficiently warranted concern, there ought to be some sort of tiered rating system of players whereby their participation is strongly encouraged, if not mandatory, to constantly strengthen their alliances with sponsors that are affiliated with the LPGA. 

Behind the scenes, these  type of corporate events are treated as a nuisance by the players. If these very sponsors pull up their tent stakes and redirect funding to other avenues of business, then the players may perhaps get the reality check that unfortunately we all need on occasion to remind us to value the relationships that have been forged to place us at the current level of success we enjoy. 

Steve Villanueva 
La Habra, California

My answer is yes unless they have a prior commitment that is communicated to the sponsor. Too many players either do not know or forget that they are in the entertainment business. They have several different audiences and, in my view, the most important one is the sponsor.

Some might argue that fans are the most important audience. Important, yes, but without sponsors there will be no fans. I humbly and respectfully suggest that any player who disagrees with the importance of sponsors should find another line of work.

George Shutt
Orlando, Florida

I don't think it unreasonable for the LPGA Tour to have a few players attend a sponsor's event (e.g. CME Group event at the Tour Championship). CME provides the biggest purse of the season, does it not? The LPGA has to scrap for its share of the sports pie. 

Let's face it, golf was a niche sport before Tiger Woods and will return to that niche once Woods retires.  The reason that golf clings so tightly to Woods — the hype we will get this month to watch him ride a cart in some hit-and-giggle events is a prime example — is that when Tiger plays golf, the sport is outside its small niche. 

I believe the ladies are much more fan and gallery friendly. They are not spoiled country club types like the PGA Tour pros. There is also a lot more personality on the ladies tour. They are not soulless millionaire automatons like the overwhelming majority of the PGA Tour players. I also find the women's game much more relatable to me as a fan of the sport. 

So, the point of all of this, the LPGA Tour has come a long way in the last five years. CME is a big-time sponsor whose event provides a major payday. I do not think it overly burdensome to ask some players to show up and shake some hands for the good of the Tour. They do it for their individual sponsors.  Why should the commissioner not ask players to spare an hour or two to help the Tour. They can go back to playing 20 events — all in North America — for 10% of the total purse of the PGA Tour again. It wasn't that long ago they were doing just that.  

William A. Galinas
Broomall, Pennsylvania

There is an old saying that goes, "In for a penny, in for a pound." Players fortunate enough to be on the major tours today are making a lot of money. Yes, it’s not an easy life, but I don’t know of a single person on the Tour who would say, "You know, I think I’d rather be working in an accounting firm or building cars in a GM plant."

I realize they got where they are by being incredible players. That said, there would be no tour — or should I say no prize money — were it not for the sponsors. If a major sponsor is putting up $4 to $6 million, then I believe the players need to be there to support any events scheduled by the sponsors.

Paul Vicary
The Villages, Florida

Regarding this week’s question of the week, I am reminded of my leadership training. Referencing leadership trainer Jim Collins — when things go well, I look out the window and applaud the team. When things go bad, I look in the mirror and ask what went wrong. 

Terry Duffy would have honored CME and his team by remaining silent and discussing the lack of attendance with his team. Duffy comes off like a whiner making such comments. He would be better served to address the situation head-on — like most competent leaders would do. He could reach out to a few of the proposed attendees and ask them why the lack of attendance. Simon Sink recommends "Start with Why." Duffy should take contemporary advice and ask the "why" question rather than respond emotionally in public. 

Maybe Duffy would benefit from some leadership mentoring and training, or it's time for a leadership change at CME.

Ralph Brown
Vacaville, California

Players should absolutely attend these functions. Corporate sponsors are the lifeblood of the tours. There would be no professional golf without them. 

Mike Wells 
Aiken, South Carolina

Professional golf is a combination of three things: 1, business; 2, entertainment; 3, competition.

Terry Duffy is a key component in two of those things. From a business perspective he brings much of the "purse" with his sponsorship dollars, which is critically linked to the competition that pays the players for being in the golf tournament.

In effect you cannot have the competition unless you have the money. In that regard, Duffy is extremely important and the players need to be sensitive to the CME Group business interests and, as such, they should have attended the event. Clearly it was in the players' best financial interest to be there, but as the LPGA commissioner said there was a "disconnect." As a business person, I find this error truly shocking. Shame on the LPGA and its players for offending the CME Group, which has been a wonderful sponsor to ladies professional golf. Triple bogey on this one.

Reid Farrill
Toronto, Ontario 

Totally agree with Duffy. His company puts up a great purse and gets nothing in return from the players and not a word from the very weak and inept LPGA commissioner. A complete failure.

Mr. Duffy should take his tournament away from the LPGA.

Douglas Fraser
Ocean City, New Jersey

Don't the players have an introductory seminar upon attaining their Tour card? What a time to lay out the expectations, sponsor obligations, pro-ams, dress codes, golf rules, interviews, pension details and a basic concept of playing top-level professional golf while still maintaining some form of personal lifestyle. As more and more countries produce competitive players, the Tour has to consider an increase in cultures, languages and personalities. If you want people to do something, perhaps they have to be told.

Michael Schurman
Durham, Ontario

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