Ever since he took over the office of Commissioner of the LPGA, Michael Whan has been a little on the quiet side. We haven’t heard his mentioned a whole lot. In this case, that is a great thing. Whan is letting his product do the talking.
Nary a soul would argue that Whan was presented the reigns of a somewhat floundering product. It wasn’t immediately seen, but we would soon see.
Ratings slumped. Sponsors were leaving. The number of events were slowly evaporating to a historic low of 23 events just last year. That cannot be attached to Whan. Yes, the common refrain is that of the economy and tournaments count on those corporate sponsors. His predecessor, Carolyn Bivens, had ran into issues as far as the rumored “my way or the highway” mentality. She ultimately resigned and the players were at the head of calling for such. Yes, water under the bridge now, and when presented such circumstances, the building always takes longer than the destruction.
Whan would be the re-builder. And he has slowly started that process.
The 2012 season, wrapping up with the CME Titleholders this weekend, has rebounded in some areas. Maybe not to the level some of the players had initially envisioned. There are still not as many events on the schedule (27) as there was in 2008 (34), but whatever bridges had been burned, Whan appears to be reconstructing those.
This year alone, Whan has had his share of moments where the future of the LPGA is truly in good hands.
There was the return to Highland Meadows Golf Club, which hosts the newly names Jamie Farr Toledo Classic, to the rotation. The site had taken a one-year hiatus as the Toledo area played host to the US Senior Open in 2011. There had been rumblings that there would be no more LPGA events in the Toldeo area. Sponsors Kroger and O-I came on board and aided Owens Corning.
The LPGA returned to the Hawaiian island of Oahu with the LPGA Lotte Championship. The tour had not been in Hawaii in two years. A return to Kingsmill Resort was huge in my book. The venue had previously held the Michelob ULTRA Open at Kingsmill, now called the Kingsmill Championship. When the PGA left the venue, the LPGA was pleased to step in and have the players on a Pete Dye course.
And even though some overseas events were in place before Whan’s arrival, the addition of the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in Australia and the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Canada are showing that the LPGA is evolving into the world’s premiere tour for women’s golf.
And if you ever watch an LPGA event, you have undoubtedly noticed the caddies and their bibs. They now sport the Twitter handle for the player for which they work. The players are engaging in “chats” via Twitter after they have finished their rounds. These ladies know their personalities and their play are the product on display.
One Whan hire, former Golf Channel personality Kraig Kann, always struck me as a perfect fit. Kann was hired as the tour’s Chief Communications Officer. If you hit up Kraig’s personal website, you will see that he is “charged with shaping and delivering all media messaging for the world’s largest women’s professional sports organization”. Considering that Kann was an original personality at Golf Channel, he has seen how communications has shaped the playing field, both on and off the course.
Prior to 2012, Whan made the announcement that the Evian Masters would become the LPGA’s fifth major. It would be named simply The Evian and move to a September slot on the schedule.
While no one can look you in the eye and state the LPGA is back to the level it once attained, it is making its way back to that stage. It may reach where it once was, it may not. Even if it doesn’t, no one could point a finger to Whan and say he didn’t try.