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New commissioner plans to capitalize on the 'global' LPGA

Rochester Business Journal
May 28, 2010

We all know about first impressions. They can be misleading. What we see isn't always what we get. That initial gut feeling can turn out to be nothing more than indigestion.

Sometimes someone can come across as being so nice, enthusiastic and wonderful that you can't help but put a mental asterisk next to his/her name. And it can make you want to be sure your wallet isn't missing when that person shakes your hand, smiles and walks away. You wonder when, not if, the other shoe will drop.

Well, I must confess: Several of us media types might have been had earlier this week at Locust Hill Country Club, but I doubt it. We spent a few minutes with Michael Whan, the new commissioner of the LPGA, who was in town to talk about next month's LPGA Championship at Locust Hill. Whan, by the way, used to be the Scottish name McWhan.

And, of course, there was talk about how he plans to revitalize the women's pro golf tour in the aftermath of former Commissioner Carolyn Bivens, the Katrina of commissioners. He didn't mention her, but because of her hardball tactics the LPGA lost some tournaments and even the Wegmans LPGA was on shaky ground for a while.

When the interview session was over, I was glad Whan wasn't trying to sell treasure maps 'cause I probably would've bought one, maybe two. He was that convincing, discussing his game plan for the future of the LPGA with energy gushing out with every word. Whan is 44 and has three sons, ages 12 to 15.

If Whan has an ego, he must've left it locked in a closet somewhere in Daytona Beach, because he didn't bring it to Rochester. Want proof? How 'bout this: He said in a previous interview with Sports Illustrated that when he became commissioner back in January, he hurt his back removing a sign from the parking space reserved for the commish.

"I don't want a special space," he said. "This isn't the Mike Whan Tour. It's about the players, fans and corporate partners. We're all in the same foxhole."

What?! But Michael, you da man! Numero Uno. The boss. The guy who calls the shots. Guys with your authority usually figure they deserve a throne, not merely an office.

My guess is that if the LPGA ever needs to dig a ditch somewhere, Whan will pick up the first shovel. He seems to be the ultimate "do as I do, not as I say" guy. In another interview before taking office, Whan said he took the job as a "personal passion ... more of a calling than a position." Spend 10 minutes with him and that's obvious.

Whan's game plan for the LPGA is simple: "We're going global." Of course, the LPGA already is global and has been for some time now. With Whan's leadership it will remain global because, unlike his predecessor, he wants to improve the so-called wheel, not reinvent it. Whan made it perfectly clear that it's not "my way or the highway." Rather, let's hold hands and raise the bar.

He says he is delighted, not concerned, that the LPGA Tour has so many great players from so many countries. And, by the way, 150 of them from 27 countries will tee it up at Locust Hill on June 24.

There is certainly no lack of talent in women's golf today, despite the absence of Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa. No problem there, Whan said. A previous commissioner "was once asked how would the LPGA deal with no (Nancy) Lopez." In other words, no big deal.

There is, however, a growing shortage of tournaments, dropping from 34 to 26 this year. Getting more events on the schedule is high on, if not at the top of, Whan's agenda. "Long-term relationships are the key," he said.

And that includes the Corning Classic. Whan said he calls former Corning Classic tournament chairman Jack Benjamin "every two months," hoping that one of the longest-running events in the history of the LPGA will get back on the calendar sooner than later.

Meanwhile, Whan said he is optimistic-and let's hope he means it-that the number will grow.

"For the LPGA to be at its best, we have to play more tournaments," he said. "I don't think we need 40 tournaments because players won't play in 40 tournaments. But do we need more? Yes."

As for the Wegmans LPGA, Whan would say only that "this tournament and Wegmans have been a major for years, and now it's finally official. It's a perfect marriage."

He would not go into the future of the Rochester tournament beyond this June, but he seemed to think-hope?-that it could remain one of the LPGA Tour's four majors.

Call it whatever you like, but women's golf doesn't get any better than the Wegmans LPGA.

Rick Woodson's column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journal website at www.rbjdaily.com. His book, "Words of Woodson," is available at www.authorhouse.com/bookstore. Listen to his weekly program, "The Golf Tee," at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.3.

 


What You're Saying 

Ted Anello at 8:05:29 PM on 5/28/2010
Rick, I was in Pleiku, South Vietnam in 1969, awaiting orders to my forward camp, and I was listening to Ralph Story commeting on baseball, when I heard him say "Yes baseball was invented in 1825 in a town called Rochester, New York." Could there be some truth to this? Plea...  Read More >

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