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Jan 20

LPGA Blooming Under…uh…Whan?

Mike Whan and the LPGA

The New York Times has announced some surprising new numbers for the LPGA, and they all point to the fact that the tour is booming. When the economic downturn hit, the women’s tour was down to 23 events and featured some lackluster purses. Suddenly, they are on track for 28 tournaments, five majors and some, shall we say, enhanced prize money.

The tour kicks off in Australia, spends about half of its time on the North American continent, and includes a major component in Asia, most notably China. The season ends with the LPGA Titleholders in November, offering a first prize of 700,000. That agreement has been offered through ’16. Yani Tseng’s popularity in China has certainly made inroads to a country ready to explode with the game. Stacy Lewis, Player of the Year in 2012 and a fiercely proud Texan, had no small hand in the tour returning to Dallas. A record number of TV hours, three hundred, have been planned, with nowhere to go but up. The Solheim Cup is due to come around again with Meg Mallon as Captain, and commissioner Mike Whan thinks it’s all pretty grand, his wheels already working on an optimum 30 to 32 event schedule.

mike whanWait a minute, whoa – rewind that – who? Mike who? Yes, Mike Whan is the Commissioner of the LPGA, and he’s the guy who’s making so much of this happen. I’d love to tell you all about him, but I can’t, because I don’t know anything. I’m not ashamed of that – nobody else knows anything about him, either.

We know that he came from the world of Mission Itech Hockey as CEO. Well, at least his origins are still in a sport where you swing a stick at an object at your feet. We don’t know much more than that, except that he’s been the Commish for three seasons now. Whan’s predecessor, Carolyn Bivens, was somewhat more well-known, mostly for her tense relations with tournament owners and other heavy-handed associations. Of course, in her defense, Bivens was trying to keep a major tour afloat through difficult times, but it was, in the end, a player revolt that removed her from that post. It was good to have a woman running the women’s tour, but perhaps she just wasn’t the right one at that moment..

mike whan 2
By all accounts, Whan sweetened those relations with tournament sponsors, and is well-liked by his players. He is, so I’ve heard, skillful in all manner of negotiations, all the while preserving the demeanor of a real human being – but who is he? Sorry, I still don’t know. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia article. I sought out his interviews, but he only talks about the tour, not himself – the nerve.

Another success on Whan’s part has been the matching of the tour schedule with the normal biorhythms and schedules of the top players. He has spaced things at about three or four weeks play, and one off. He knows that players often take a week off after a major, and the same following the Asian segment – “I get fresher players…happier sponsors…better TV,” he says. After filling the tour to its ideal number of events, his next issues to tackle are larger purses and even more TV coverage – but as to who he is, I don’t have a clue. Maybe he’s an alien walk-in, and knowing his background would spoil the magic. Maybe he’s Obie-Whan.

However, somebody must know. Whan has been named to head the 2013 World Golf Foundation as Chairman. He must be doing something right, and if he wants to live in such modesty, it’s fine with me, although it makes it tough to write about him.

Anyway, congratulations to the LPGA and Mike Whan…whoever he is.

 

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.