Founders Looking to Find a Future

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2011, 11:13 pm

RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup

PHOENIX – His first morning in the desert this week, Mike Whan took a jog across Wildfire Golf Club.

The LPGA commissioner stopped in front of the Founders Walk of Fame behind the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa.

He stopped to soak in the reverent atmosphere his tour has created this week with giant photographs of the 13 LPGA founders on banners hanging between the ninth and 18th greens at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup.

“I don’t think we’ve done a great job of remembering our past,” Whan said. “It’s not that it hasn’t been important, but we just don’t remember where we came from enough. I have no doubt this event will evolve into something bigger and better over the years.”

Whan begins his second year as commissioner knowing his membership has the same bold vision for the tour as a whole. He says this is the year the tour has to prove it can win back title sponsors.

Whan’s finding inspiration for that pursuit in the spirit of the tour’s founders.

The LPGA commissioner loves hearing how those women barnstormed the country building the tour 61 years ago.

Starting the tour was daunting work for the founders, not knowing if their sacrifices would pay off. There were just 14 tournaments in that first season in 1950, and it was hardly a glamorous life they created for themselves. In those early years, players did just about everything themselves. They typed up tournament press releases, set the daily pins, marked hazards, managed the pairings, oversaw scorekeeping and counted gate receipts before dividing their take.

That’s why the Founders Cup means so much to Whan.

This event’s his baby, and the question this week isn’t so much whether the Founders Cup will flourish, but whether the LPGA can flourish as a sports entity again.

Mike Whan of the LPGA
Mike Whan took over as commissioner of the LPGA in 2010. (Getty Images)

Whan was handed a daunting challenge when he took over as commissioner.

He was handed a tour on the verge of collapse.

A tour that once boasted 40 events scrambled and scrapped to field 24 events.

The 2010 schedule felt as if it were held together with bandages.

After a year of healing, it feels like the bandages are off, or at least they should be.

The addition of RR Donnelley as this week's title sponsor and CME Group as title sponsor of the season-ending Titleholders championship were positive signs.

“We want to keep the momentum we’ve built the last few months,” Whan said. “The U.S. economy is bouncing back. We are not living in 2007 just yet, but we also don’t feel like we are living in 2009 either. Between CME Group and RR Donnelley becoming title sponsors, we’ve seen some big sponsors, that have played with the LPGA at a certain level in the past, playing on another level now. We have a couple more I feel like are close to doing the same thing.

“I feel the domestic momentum building. Internationally, we’ve had some pretty good action, and that will continue, but I think 2011 has to be the year we prove we can woo sponsors back.”

That makes this feel like an important, if not pivotal, year in the reconstruction of the LPGA.

“I don’t like the word pivotal,” said four-time LPGA winner Angela Stanford. “I think we’ve been through the tough time. In my opinion, it’s an important year, but it seems like every year’s important now. I really think we’ve been through the toughest times with the economy turning around.”

If that’s true, players want to see the tour rebounding with the economy.

They want to see more U.S. based events. That’s the mandate Whan’s feeling from his membership.

The LPGA had 24 U.S. events in 2008, but that’s down to 13.

Though we’re 11 weeks into the new year, the LPGA’s playing just its third tournament. There were six weeks off at the start of the year, and there’s just one LPGA event on the schedule in April, an important month for golf equipment manufacturers.

Whan is just as motivated as his players to see the number of events grow with new title sponsors joining the fold this year.

You can ask his wife.

“My wife said to me the other day, 'you’ve been in a bad mood the last couple weeks',” Whan said. “I told her it’s hard to watch the Golf Channel on Sunday and watch somebody else play. Nothing against the Golf Channel, but it’s hard to be in a good mood when I know we should be playing. I told her April is going to be worse, but I promise I’ll be better after April.”

Whan’s players want him to be in a great mood for his wife come next April.

“This is a very important year for us,” LPGA veteran Cristie Kerr said. “Mike’s had a year as commissioner under his belt to see how things run and to get introduced to all the partners we have. I think he’s done a good job his first year, but I think now is the time to build and go after new sponsorships, to foster new relationships, especially in the United States.

“Whatever it takes to get it done, we just need to try to keep building business.”

Hall of Famer Karrie Webb joined the LPGA’s Player Board this year and is eager to help steer the tour back into a growth mode.

“Last year was a very important year,” Webb said. “Mike did a really good job his first year. I think this year and maybe next year are years where he can get down to the business of selling us rather than having to stabilize the ship and trying to find a direction where we’re headed. Now, we sort of have that direction. Now, it’s about putting that plan into place. It’s all out on this year, but I think the next two years are important.”

Whan enters the year with the confidence of his players. There were serious issues about the original design of the Founders Cup format, with some top players questioning Whan's plan, but he seemed to have smoothed over most of that by integrating player suggestions. That helped ease the threat to the trust he built with his players and LPGA partners over his first year. Now, there’s even harder work, building that relationship with new partners.

“Mike deals with so many conflicting demands,” LPGA veteran Wendy Ward said. “I’ve seen four commissioners now in my time on the LPGA, and the thing I like about Mike is he’s a good a listener, a good communicator who shoots straight with people. He’s a good businessman, and with all of that comes passion and energy. He came in at a tough time, with some tough demands and he’s been able to please just about everybody.”

Whan will need all that energy and passion to build on what the founders created. He’s finding inspiration from them this week.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

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Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.

The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.

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Rory faces criticism

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President at the Presidents Cup

Video: President Trump makes the rounds at Liberty National

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Article: Stricker: 'Great thrill' to get trophy from Trump

Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham

Article: Senator tweets Trump shot 73 in windy, wet conditions

Article: Graham offers details on Trump's round of 73

Cart on the green

Article: Trump appears to drive cart on Bedminster green

Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open

Article: Trump makes presidential history at Women's Open

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Article: UltraViolet takes protest inside Trump National

Photo gallery: President Trump at the U.S. Women's Open

Trump golf properties


Article: Environmental group vandalizes Trump golf course

Article: Man accused of vandalizing four Trump courses


Article: Two Trump courses in Scotland losing millions

Article: Eric Trump denies Russia helped fund golf courses

Article: Trump company ordered to pay $5.77M in dues dispute

Reportedly fake TIME covers

Article: Trump clubs display fake Time magazine cover

Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story

Report: Trump's voter fraud claim tied to Langer

Langer: Trump 'apologized' for story mix-up

Pros comment on the president

Article: Players defend Trump at Senior PGA Championship

Article: Trump congratulates Daly; Daly congratulates Trump

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 12:30 pm