by Jim Riggs
February 17, 2001
LPGA's Forgotten Executive
Edward "Bud" Erickson is being inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame on Monday night for many reasons.
The Dunkirk native was the assistant sports information director at Michigan State from 1948-52. He then handled statistics for Detroit Tigers radio broadcasts before moving on to be the publicity director and then assistant general manager for the Detroit Lions. In 1965 he became the assistant to the president of the NFL's expansion Atlanta Falcons, but in 1969 the Falcons' owner fired head coach Norb Hecker without informing the management group, including Erickson, and brought in Norm Van Brocklin. Van Brocklin wanted to run everything but Erickson wasn't comfortable with that situation and resigned. That led him to the most prominent position of his sports career.
Erickson was a member of Atlanta County Club and the assistant pro, Gloria Armstrong, suggested he take over the Ladies Professional Golf Association, which was seeking an executive director. Erickson met with LPGA president and executive board and they hired him.
As was the case when he worked with the expansion Falcons, Erickson was again trying to promote something new, even though the LPGA was 19 years old.
"It was struggling, there's no doubt," he san from his West Bloomfield, Mich., home earlier this week. "It was a difficult sale at the time."
But the strategy Erickson took is still valid today.
"We tried to sell it on the basis that the average golfer who is a 15, 16, 17, 18 handicap can get more from watching the swing and the game of the ladies of the LPGA than going out and trying to follow Nicklaus, Palmer, Player or the rest of that group (on the PGA Tour at the time) because they can't hit it as hard or as far," Erickson said. "You can learn more from watching the ladies swing. While it's basically true, it's not something that's easy to sell."
But in a few years something happened to help the LPGA and all of women's sports. "The best thing that happened for the ladies professional golf tour was in 1972 when Congress passed Title 9," he said, referring to the law that said schools and colleges had to equally spend money on men's and women's sports.
And that also led to a new view of women's sports in all phases of society.
"Then corporations that previously had never indicated any interest in women's activities began to take notice," Erickson said.
So they began sponsoring women's sports events, such as LPGA tournaments and a lot of it happened during Erickson's tenure of 1969-75. In that span, he lined up numerous sponsors for tournaments, with the largest the Colgate Dinah Shore Golf Classic, which is now listed as one of the LPGA's four majors.
That also led to more television exposure and more money. During the period that Erickson was the LPGA executive director, the tournament purses grew from $600,000 to $1.9 million. Unfortunately, that isn't remembered by many.
Recently Golf World published an entire issue celebrating the LPGA's 50th anniversary and it was noted the increase of purses by the organization's first commissioner, Ray Volpe. He succeeded Erickson, whose name was never mentioned.
Last month I called LPGA headquarters seeking a photo of Erickson, but the name didn't ring a bell right away with the media relations department there and it took quite a while to track down a photo.
However, Erickson was only the executive director of the LPGA, which was actually run by president Carol Mann, a tour player, and her executive board, also made up of players. In the summer of 1975 they decided they wanted a change.
"Carol came to me and said that she had decided they wanted to go in a different direction and go with someone out of the big world of New York I guess," Erickson said about their decision to name Volpe to the new position of commissioner. "In effect I was let go by Carol Mann and her group."
And Erickson didn't take the news very well. "I'll be honest, I was very upset," he said. "I thought, and I think 90 percent of the ladies of the LPGA thought, I had done a good job for them."
But Volpe came in and earned a lot of credit for increasing LPGA purses to $6.4 million.
"He built on what we started," Erickson said. " We began to get some momentum and exposure and they (purses) were bound to go up. I was upset, there's no doubt."
He added, "He hung around two or three years and then he left."
During Erickson's tenure there was also the controversy with Jane Blalock, an LPGA Tour player who had been accused of cheating in 1972 by numerous players. She was suspended for the remainder of the season by the executive board. However, Blalock sued and in 1975 won her case in an unusual way.
"She won the case based on the fact that she sued under the Sherman Antitrust Law, that she was being deprived of making a living by fellow competitors who would benefit by her not being there," Erickson said. "The judge didn't know if a golf ball was blown up or stuffed and he didn't care. He didn't care anything about whether she moved the ball on the greens or whether she did this or whether she did that or any of the testimony that was presented into the case about previous observations that players had made. His emphasis was only the Sherman Antitrust Law."
Which is why the LPGA established the position of commissioner, which it had been working on while Erickson was still the executive director.
"The LPGA was in the process of rewriting the constitution," he said. "If the constitution had been rewritten and I had been the commissioner of the LPGA at the time (and he suspended Blalock), she would have had no leg to stand on on the merits of the case (using the Sherman Antitrust Act) because I would not have benefited from her not being on the Tour."
The Blalock controversy led to a difficult period for the publicity-hungry LPGA Tour.
It was a diversion and I think it had its effect of splitting the group into two camps," Erickson said. "At that time we didn't need any negatives. We needed all the positives we could get."
Erickson still has some positives about his time with the LPGA, though his association with the organization ended on a sour note.
"It was an interesting period, I enjoyed it very much," he said. "It gave me an opportunity to go to places I thought I'd never go - Japan, Australia, England, places like that. It was another chapter in my life I guess."
And an important chapter in the history of the LPGA that is unfortunately forgotten.