Driving Force

Paul Prendergast talks to Commissioner Mike Whan, the man behind the LPGA Tour’s resurrection

I’ve read you consider the number of events you have now - 33 – as being around the optimum for what you can support on a schedule and properly service the needs of sponsors …

The last eight months has probably been the first time I’ve ever said ‘No’ to anyone, but the bottom line is I can’t get away with having tournaments where five of the top 75 players show up. Other Tours may be able to, other sports may be able to, but in the LPGA’s world, when I get people to write a cheque large enough to be a title sponsor, they expect a high quality, international field where the world’s paying attention and the top players are playing.

I’ve seen events on other Tours where five of the top people are there and they’re missing 45 of the top players. I don’t think our Tour can withstand that, so if I add another 15 or 20 events where everyone is unhappy, all that results in is a lot of [sponsor and event] turnover and nobody wins there.

One of your mantras for your staff and the players has been to ‘Think like a Founder’ - those players that pioneered the LPGA Tour - in terms of reshaping the focus, the priorities and the principles that the Tour is built on.

The basic premise is ‘get over yourself’ - it doesn’t matter what your title is and what you get paid, what can you do to make the LPGA better?

However, the most important thing in this ‘founder philosophy’ is you need to leave the game better than when found it. The early founders knew they weren’t going to make any money or get rich but they knew they needed to leave the game better for the next generation of women.

And so, to give you an example, back in 2009 we used to put about 3,000 young women through a program called ‘Girls Golf’ to get young girls playing. This year, we’ll put about 43,000 through. To me, that’s acting like a founder and it’s one of the great successes of the LPGA Tour.

We’re using our opportunity to grow the game and we’re really starting to see the impact, in the United States at least, of young women coming back into the game. We can’t think we have this great success and feel like we have no responsibility to make the game better at the same time.

And how have the players responded?

To be honest with you, I really thought I was going to have to educate the players on this but the reality is: they teach me more than the other way around.

I don’t have to teach LPGA athletes anything. More often than not, I just have to follow their lead.


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