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THE SHORT STUFF

Sophie's LPGA Choice Is the Commissioner

March 20, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. — The LPGA, always starved for publicity, is getting some now it probably doesn't really want: Commissioner Ty Votaw is romantically involved with player Sophie Gustafson.

Votaw, 41, and in his fifth year as LPGA commissioner, has been separated from his wife for more than a year. Gustafson, 29, is a four-year veteran from Sweden who has won three LPGA tournaments and is single.

Votaw did not want to comment, but former LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem backed him. It was Mechem who brought Votaw to the LPGA in 1991 as general counsel.

"My feeling is that a person's private life is exactly that," Mechem said Wednesday. "If you become a public figure, it doesn't mean you can't have a private life."

Apparently, the LPGA's board of directors agrees with Mechem. The 14-member board held a conference call last week to discuss Votaw's situation and reached a unanimous decision that if the commissioner were romantically involved with a player, that did not constitute a conflict of interest.

"I talked to Ty about the conflict-of-interest situation and I'm convinced there will be none because he will deal professionally with it," Mechem said. "He would excuse himself from a decision or vote whenever it is required."

Mechem said it's probably wrong to design too many potential scenarios involving Votaw.

"I'm never one to advise making a bunch of hypothetical situations and worry about them because if they never come up, all you've done is put yourself through unnecessary conflict."

Last year, after Votaw led a campaign to pump new energy into the LPGA, attendance and television viewership rose.

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Tiger Woods says the lingering controversy over Augusta National's membership will certainly affect the Masters next month.

"I think it's tarnished it this year," Woods said. "If you go back to when the rules were being changed, when Charlie [Sifford] was qualifying for the Masters back in the '60s and '70s, if you would have said that would tarnish the Masters, but did it?

"I don't think it did and I don't think this will [long-range], either. I think eventually it will go away and it will be resolved and Augusta and the Masters will be what it is."

If Woods wins at Bay Hill this week, he will be the first player in 73 years to win the same tournament four consecutive times. Gene Sarazen won the Miami Open four times in a row, the last one in 1930.

Also, Woods is trying to make his 100th consecutive cut. The record is 113 by Byron Nelson, and Jack Nicklaus is second with 105.

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Ernie Els says his right wrist is all right now, a week after he injured it while training in his garage in Wentworth, England. He said he hit a punching bag the wrong way.

Explained Els: "I'm not a pro."

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Nick Dougherty, a 20-year-old European Tour player, is making Bay Hill his U.S. debut. He has played eight events and made eight cuts, but Dougherty isn't satisfied with that.

"When Tiger plays poorly, for him, he still manages to shoot under par," Dougherty said.

Dougherty is from Liverpool, where his father was a friend of Pete Best, the drummer for the Beatles before Ringo Starr. Best gave Dougherty's father one of Paul McCartney's early guitars, which Dougherty's father traded for a flute. Dougherty is an accomplished flutist.

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Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Juli Inkster have entered the Office Depot Championship hosted by Amy Alcott. The event, which will be played April 4-6 at El Caballero, benefits the City of Hope.

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There's going to be some cool golf being played later this month -- on the island of Uummannaq in Greenland, where on-course temperatures may dip to 40 below zero. It's the Drambuie World Ice Golf Championships, a 36-hole study in frozen par, where the greens are white, the golf balls are orange and the course changes every day when the ice pack moves.

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