Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Commissioner That Really Has Made A Difference

I have been a big LPGA fan for a very long time. The first LPGA tournament I ever attended was back in 1974, and I remember following Jan Stephenson for 36 holes. The LPGA was quite popular back then, and would become even more popular in 1978 when a rookie named Nancy Lopez came onto the scene. Nancy would go on to win the Rookie of the Year, Vare Trophy, and Player of the Year in the same season. Nancy was making headlines and the LPGA was thriving. In the decades to come the game would still remain popular with players such as Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, and Se Ri Pak bringing new fans to the game.

Unfortunately, things started changing for the worse as we entered the 21st century.
  • The nation's dreadful economy led to sponsors not having the funds to support the LPGA.
  • The LPGA's failure to take the current economic conditions into consideration when negotiating contract renewals. Several long term sponsors would not be returning in the year 2010 amidst complaints from tournament directors that the commissioner's management style and approach was counterproductive.
  • Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ocho retiring, certainly did not help matters.
Entering the 2010 season, the sport I loved so much seemed all but dead. The only thing you heard about the LPGA at that point was the term "sinking ship." The LPGA was on life support. It was going to take a miracle to turn it around.

Enter Commissioner Michael Whan

On October 28, 2009 the LPGA announced the hiring of Mr. Michael Whan. He would take office on January 4, 2010. The announcement didn't really make any big headlines in the newspapers. Unless you were a big LPGA fan you probably didn't even read about it. I was skeptical, who was this man?
I never heard of him. I decided to do some research and this is what I found.
  • He was 44 years old, and he and his wife, Meg, and their three children made their residence in Lake Mary, Fl.
  • He was a 1987 graduate of Miami (Ohio), University.
  • He was the Executive VP/General Manager of North America TaylorMade Adidas Golf, from 1995-2000.
  • His most recent job was President/CEO of something called Mission-Itec Hockey.
I have to admit that I was still skeptical at this point. Sure, he had an impressive resume, but was he qualified to take over the job of the sport that I loved so much? More importantly, was he capable of turning around a sinking ship, and doing it quickly?

Let's Skip ahead to 2014.

The commissioner has now been on the job for 4 years. I said earlier that the LPGA needed a miracle. In my opinion they got one, his name was Michael Whan.

His methods haven't always been orthodox. He was criticized when he added the RR Donnelly Founders Cup a couple of years back. Many were critical that the girls had to play for charity with no prize money. Well that is now a full field event with a $1.5 million purse.

Many laughed at the way a player qualified for the season ending Titleholders Championship.
It sure wasn't perfect, we all know that, but it added a tournament to the schedule and look what it has become now.

There was even some criticism (and there still is now), about adding a 5th major championship.
The jury is still out on that one, but isn't it better to have 5 then to lose a sponsor and have only 3?

I like a commissioner that "thinks outside the box", and we sure have one in Mr. Whan.

Let's take a look at some of his accomplishments over the past 4 years.
  • There were 23 tournaments in 2010, there are 32 now.
  • There were 14 tournaments in North America in 2010, there are 21 now.
  • There are now 9 tournaments in Asia.
  • The International Crown has been added to the schedule as an unofficial tournament, giving players from all countries a chance to compete in a Solheim Cup type event.
  • The total purse has increased from $40.5 million in 2011 to $56.3 million.
  • TV ratings are up dramatically. There will be a record 350 + hours of coverage in 2014, with 32 tournaments televised.
  • Has added the "Race to the CME Globe", a FedEx Cup type race with a one million dollar first prize.
As most of my readers know, my wife and I go to many of these tournaments every year. In fact, we have attended approximately 30 tournaments in the last 5 years.
During this time we have made friends with many of the players. I can honestly say that I have never heard any player criticize the job that the commissioner is doing. The long worried faces we had observed 4 and 5 years ago have been replaced with smiles of hope. Those smiles are contagious and make for a much more fan friendly environment.

The commissioner has also exceled in hiring his staff. Everyone that I have come in contact with (in person, by phone, or e-mail), has always been 100% cooperative. I am not Ron Sirak or Beth Ann Baldry Nichols (the two best golf writers on the planet), but they always find the time to get back to me and answer any questions I might have. Having a staff that includes the likes of Heather Daly Donofrio, Jack Sumnar, Kelly Theiser, Meghan Flanagan, and Stacy Shanks has sure made it easier for me to write this blog accurately. Promoting the LPGA has always been my one and only goal here.
There are a still a few things I hope to see in the future. They include:
  • Eight weeks between seasons is still a bit too long (although it is better than the 12 week wait last year), I would like it cut to six. Adding another Florida tournament in November and another warm weather tournament in January would be great.
  • Thirty-five tournaments is the number I am looking for. Three more on American soil, would be preferable.
  • One match play tournament, similar to the dearly departed Sybase Championship, would make a nice addition.
  • Media coverage in the local newspapers outside of where the tournament is being held, is almost non-existent. Living in the New York area, I read the New York Daily News and New York Post, two of the papers with the largest circulation in the country. On Monday morning I have to read 4 columns of a PGA story, 2 columns of a Seniors Tours results story, and a column of a Men's European Tour story to get to a six line story on the LPGA. That is if there is one there at all. I am not sure what has to be done here to improve this situation, but bigger headlines will generate larger attendance and produce even higher TV ratings.
The commissioner has stated, “This is by no means a finished product. But it’s an enjoyable journey right now for our players and our partners and we’re going to continue pushing toward something in which the LPGA’s Founders and LPGA fans can be proud.  We’re excited about where we are, but even more excited about where we’re going!”

I am excited also. I am excited for the upcoming 2014 season. I am excited about the future of the LPGA. I am mostly excited about what Mr. Whan has in store for us next.

Other Tidbits:
Both of Jessica Korda's LPGA victories have come on the opening tournament of the season.
Stacy Lewis has 11 consecutive top 10 finishes dating back to last season.
Thailand has now passed Spain and moved into 4th place in the International Crown Standings.

Rolex Rankings Movers of the Week:
Jessica Korda Leaps from #40 to #24, while Lizette Salas Moves from #20 to #17.


  1. Couldn't agree more. Mike Whan, and his team, as he is always quick to mention, have done an amazing job over the past four years.

  2. Yes, Tony, things are certainly looking up. One thing that might be interesting is a yearly series of tournaments similar to the World Golf Championships, combining the LPGA with the LET tours. More coverage of the Symetra Tour would also be nice.