Golf: Ladies' man seeking steady relationship: The new executive director of the women's European Tour has plans to broaden its horizons. Tim Glover reports

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The Independent Online
TRISH JOHNSON pays a high price for being one of the highest paid women in sport. She has won a mini- fortune in America this season but cannot spare the time to buy a season ticket to watch her beloved Arsenal. Johnson, whose father is a Londoner, became a junior Gunner at 10 and one reason why she heads the money list in America is because of her association with football at Highbury.

Johnson, who was born in Bristol and lives in Ealing, West London, has returned to Britain this week for the Ford Classic at Woburn, which begins today, after a phenomenal spell on the US Tour. She won in Las Vegas and won again the next week in the Atlanta Women's Championship. While the WPG European Tour has undergone a leadership crisis which is connected with a desperate search for sponsors, Johnson has won nearly dollars 200,000 ( pounds 126,500) in America.

She began the year by training with Arsenal Ladies' FC twice a week for three months. During her triumphs she was buoyed by reports of Arsenal's progress. 'After all the hard work it was going to click at some stage,' Johnson said.

What has not clicked following Europe's resounding victory in the Solheim Cup is the WPG Tour. The Ford Classic is the first ladies' event in Europe this season; the men have already played 14. Johnson has interrupted her tour of America, in which she is committed to play in at least 15 events, to support the European Tour even though this week there is an event in America with a first prize of dollars 180,000 ( pounds 114,000). After Woburn, she will return to America for another six-week stint, preventing attendance at Wembley for the FA Cup final.

The ladies have dismissed two executive directors in the last couple of years and on Tuesday evening they were briefed by Terry Coates, the new man at the helm. Coates, a former marketing man with British Airways, said he had a 'lovely product with a beautiful shape which very few people wanted to buy'.

He said he was going to raise the noise level and began by throwing down a manicured gauntlet. 'No more,' he said, 'is it going to be a male-dominated game. There is a credibility gap but we can beat the hell out of the senior men professionals.' Coates has challenged the men's senior tour to a match with the ladies playing off the same tees.

Coates is a disciple of Richard Branson (unusual for a former BA man) and he quoted extensively from an article written by the creator of Virgin airways. 'We will shape the enterprise around the people . . . We will be the best not the biggest.' The women professionals in Europe are playing for less than a total of pounds 1m this season compared to more than dollars 20m ( pounds 126,500) for their American counterparts. Only about 12 of them, Coates claims, make a decent living. 'We need a better business approach and I will target companies that are already committed to sport. There is going to be no more bad-mouthing of this Tour. There's going to be change.

'The women have never had a long-term plan. I would like to see 20 tournaments on the schedule next year and I want an Open in every country in Europe. The stones are laid down. All I've got to do is step over them.'

Coates said he is negotiating with a multi-national company, associated with the 'new woman', as an overall sponsor. 'Housewives put the booze in the basket,' he said, arguing that it is predominantly women who make the decisions. Andrea Doyle, the former chief executive of the WPG European Tour, would probably disagree.

Coates, who believes he has the 'hearts and minds of the girls', said: 'I hope the honeymoon will go on forever.' Laura Davies, the most recognisable lady professional golfer in Europe, listened to Coates' tales. She and some of the other leading players gave him moral support. Davies, one of Doyle's more outspoken critics, said: 'If we are wrong this time it could be the end of all of us.'

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