LPGA leader Mechem meets challenge

GOLF Notebook

March 17, 1991|By John W. Stewart

Over the years, the Ladies Professional Golf Association ha been fortunate enough to attract -- with one notable exception -- the right leadership at the right time. A series of chief executive officers has consistently taken the organization to higher levels.

For more than 40 years, recognized leaders in sports promotion, public relations, marketing and management -- men like Fred Corcoran, Ed Carter, Lennie Wirtz, Bud Erickson, Ray Volpe and John Laupheimer -- have played an important role in sustaining and improving the life of the LPGA.

An exception was William A. Blue, whose organization pluses could not offset his minuses, and he was fired last summer after serving less than two years.

The ensuing search for a successor found Charles S. Mechem Jr. of Cincinnati, one whose experience was so perfectly suited to the position, it was scary.

Eight weeks into the job, Mechem was at Bethesda Country Club recently, visiting the site of the $1 million Mazda LPGA Championship (June 24-27) and talking about where his association is and where he hopes it is going.

"Four or five months ago, this is the last place I expected to be," he said during a news conference. "I had retired last summer [after 24 years as chief executive officer of Great American Broadcasting Co., formerly Taft Broadcasting Co.], and gone back to a law practice when the offer came the Monday before Thanksgiving.

"It's been a whirlwind -- and a challenge -- ever since. I have met with our sponsors group, visited tournament sites, and, generally, spent time getting to know people, listening to them, and being responsive to their needs."

He cited "institutional inferiority complex," as a major LPGA weakness, saying it worried too much about being compared with the other professional tours [men], and not enough about emphasizing it as a women's sports organization.

Among other areas he expects to focus attention are scheduling, specifically patching the holes such as the one this spring that finds no events between April 7 and May 3; increased media exposure, and increased purses.

"I believe the public measures the quality of an event by the size of the purse," he said.

Among the strengths, he pointed to the loyalty of sponsors, the number of people who want the association to succeed, and the commitment of its players.

As with other professional sports, the television industry looms large in any future speculation, but, in Mechem's opinion, "There is no magic of getting on TV. The business is changing. Among the three major networks, ratings are far less important than they used to be, and the amount of money lost on major sports events is mind-boggling.

"There is an emerging cable business, too. We were able to shift the Centel Classic in Tallahassee from October to mid-May, for instance, to give Turner an opportunity to do its first LPGA event."

Although his background seems ideally suited to guiding the LPGA, the most-often asked question Mechem hears is, "Why would you agree to take this position?" [one many consider the toughest job in golf].

"I can't confirm it's the toughest, but there is no reason to think the job can't be performed. I wouldn't have undertaken it if I did not think I could succeed. I understand the challenge and the difficulties, and I'm optimistic enough to think they can be done.

"Of a more personal nature, I had retired and was contemplating how to spend the next few years. Five years ago, or five years from now, I wouldn't have taken the job. As it was, they got me at the right time.

"And, in choosing me, they get someone who is not building a resume -- I'm 60 years old and this is my last hurrah -- and someone who has had two reasonably successful careers and is not about to mess up this one."

* Among area tour players: LPGA--30. Tina Barrett, five events, PGA Tour--55. Fred Funk, eight events, $55,256; Ben Hogan Tour--7. Webb Heintzelman, four events, $12,925.

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