LPGA's Mike Whan Discusses The Tour Under His Leadership, Growing The Sport
With the LPGA about to enter its 64th season, Commissioner Mike Whan discussed issues facing the league with Ron Sirak of GOLF WORLD. Whan said of the Tour's growth, "The word I come up with is 'rising.' I've started a lot of sales presentations with the guy on the other side of the table going, 'Gee, are you guys OK?' That hasn't happened in a year and a half." Whan said of the LPGA schedule moving from 23 events in '11 to 28 this year, "The smartest thing I do is get prospective sponsors to experience it -- play in a pro-am, sit on the 18th green, come into the TV tower. Our product delivers." Whan, on the positives of the Tour, said, "We now have a sponsor pool that is worldwide ... And I really think we are playing a major role in growing the game worldwide for women." Whan said of the negatives, "We don't want to burn players out at 26 or 27. Lorena Ochoa leaving to have a family was a bit of a wake-up call." Whan, on whether he had to rebuild strained relationships left by his predecessor, said, "I had to listen more than I thought I would in my first year. ... The best decision I made was, in early 2010, re-pricing the LPGA to make it less expensive to be a sponsor and, like a lot of other businesses, we just made a much thinner margin. We haven't really made any money since the day I got here. I'm not proud of that and I'm not embarrassed by that." Whan said of the Kraft Nabisco Championship continuing to be a "major" tournament after '14, "They had a contract that said if they wanted to exit they had to give us a five-year warning, and that's what they did. It doesn't require them to exit. I see Kraft getting more involved, not less" (GOLF WORLD, 2/18 issue).
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS: Sirak notes, "Missing when the LPGA released its 2013 schedule last month was the Sybase Match Play Championship, contested the last three years at Hamilton Farm GC in Bedminster, N.J." Reading "between the lines, the tour was probably not all that pleased that the sponsor waited until so late in the game to make decisions about this year's event." Whan said, "When Sybase was purchased by SAP, we believed they would pick up the sponsorship extension that was available to them. Unfortunately, we were informed in late 2012 that SAP would not title sponsor the event, at which point it was simply too late to find a new sponsor for the 2013 tournament." Tournament Dir Harry Hardy of Octagon said that his company "would also work to find a new sponsor for an event" in the N.Y/N.J. area. Whether the Match Play Championship "comes back is a more dubious call" (GOLF WORLD, 2/18 issue).
YOUTH MOVEMENT: GOLF WEEK's Beth Ann Baldry writes it would be "incredible to think that Whan could do anything other than green-light" a Lydia Ko petition to join the tour in '14. Baldry notes for the 17-year-old Ko to play on the LPGA Tour next year, she would "need to petition the tour to compete in LPGA Q-School at 16." If she were to "finish the equivalent of top 40 on the LPGA money list in official tournaments with cuts, Ko could" ask Whan to allow her "to skip Q-School." She also could "win another LPGA event and petition to join the tour, skipping Q-School, much like Lexi Thompson in 2011." Ko's schedule this year is "enviable to many pros." It is a "professional's schedule without the professional's paycheck" (GOLF WEEK, 2/15 issue).
IN ANY LANGUAGE: The LPGA yesterday announced a multiyear extension with Indianapolis-based Language Training Center as the official language provider of the Tour. LTC as part of the agreement will continue to host cross-cultural seminars, provide translation and interpretation services, and offer language training programs to LPGA players and staff. The LPGA first partnered with LTC in '10 (LTC).