LPGA commissioner Whan making an impact

By Randall MellJanuary 15, 2013, 5:43 pm

When Mike Whan was hired as the LPGA commissioner at the end of 2009, nobody knew who he was.

There was a mad scramble among media to learn more about the former CEO of Mission Itech Hockey. Even LPGA pros had no clue who this guy was.

Today, three years after Whan’s hire, Wikipedia still has no entry devoted to him.

That’s just fine with Whan, 47, because he prefers making his impact behind the scenes, and he’s quietly making a profound impact in the women’s game.

After taking over in tough economic times, Whan has rescued a sinking ship.

Whan doesn’t like hearing that, and he doesn’t believe it’s an accurate description of the state of the tour when he took over, but there were serious doubts about the future of the LPGA with so many title sponsors abandoning ship as he was taking the rudder.

In ’08, there were 34 official LPGA events, 24 of them domestic events.

By 2011, there were just 23 total official events left.

You have to know those numbers to appreciate Tuesday’s release of the LPGA’s 2013 schedule.

There will be 28 events this year. While that is just one more than a year ago, it’s six more check-cashing events than two years ago. It’s $8.5 million more in total prize money over 2011. And Whan might not be done this year. He hopes to be able to announce a 29th event in the coming month, a West Coast event to be played in late September.

Momentum isn’t a dirty word in the LPGA ranks anymore.

Whan’s turning that around.

“There was definitely a negative trend and that was concerning for a lot of us,” said Rob Neal, chair of the LPGA Tournament Owners Association Board and executive director of the Tournament Golf Foundation. “Mike’s job, No. 1, was to stop the negative trend and create a solid foundation to turn things around and create some positive momentum.”

Basically, Whan has turned around a crisis of confidence in LPGA leadership.

Whan’s predecessor, Carolyn Bivens, didn’t have an easy task as the LPGA’s first female commissioner. A sour economy, and her heavy-handed tactics with tournament owners, conspired to unhinge the organization. A player revolt forced her departure and created serious questions about the tour’s future.

If so many longtime LPGA partners no longer had confidence in the tour’s leadership, why would prospective new sponsors have any?

That was the challenge Whan faced.

“We needed a new face and a new kind of energy to build the confidence in everybody at the LPGA and in the LPGA family,” Neal said. “I think Mike’s brought that.”

Whan’s formula is as basic as creating a genuine partnership with tournament owners.

“He creates this feeling that the LPGA and the tournaments are in a joint effort, that it isn’t 'us' and 'them,' but it’s a team,” said Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, the LPGA president. “That whole change in atmosphere and thinking has really grown the parties together.”

Whan believes his stars know how to sell even better than he does.

“I always felt like the media and others thought we were more shaky than we were because I knew we had a good product,” Whan said. “You can’t sell a bad product, and you can’t fix a bad product. The bottom line is these ladies get it. They are the best sales engine in this business.

“You can’t say quality and momentum aren’t continuing this year, and nobody can take credit for that but the players. My staff and I have been smart enough to get out of their way and let them do what they do so well. We turn what they do into more business, but they are the best sales engine in this business.”

Former LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem is a big fan of Whan’s work ethic.

“Mike’s doing an extraordinary job, and he’s doing it the old-fashioned way,” Mechem said. “He’s just working at it. It’s the only way to do it.”

Whan will tell you the tour’s growing schedule will continue to be pinned to his stars.

Stacy Lewis’ rise in 2012  as the LPGA’s Player of the Year helped the tour move back into the Dallas area with the new North Texas LPGA Shootout this year. She’s a Texan and proud of it. She had an endorsement deal with Pure Silk, which helped pave the way to that company becoming title sponsor of the new event in the Bahamas this year.

The LPGA is in Taiwan because of Yani Tseng’s popularity and in China because of Shanshan Feng’s breakthrough last year. The tour’s still in Mexico because of Lorena Ochoa. It’s in South Korea and Japan because of all the stars that have come out of those countries.

Still, Whan’s skill as a facilitator can’t be underestimated. He’s rebuilding trust that the LPGA is a good partner.

“Three years ago, we were a tour of individual tournaments that were, maybe not scraping, but working very hard in a tough economy to stay afloat,” said Gail Graham, president of the Tournament Owners Association. “Now, it feels more like we’re part of the team, part of the association. That’s really buoyed the confidence of tournaments.”

The rebuilt trust is taking the LPGA closer to Whan’s goals.

Whan wants 30 to 32 LPGA events. He believes that’s a solid, optimum schedule.

“I’m trying to build schedules that match the way top players play anyway,” Whan said. “They play three weeks, then take a week off, or they play four weeks, then take a week off. Typically, they take a week off after a major, and they take a week off after playing Asia. If I build a schedule built around the way they want to play anyway, I get fresher players. I get happier sponsors. I get better TV. So, it’s selfish, but at the same time, it’s selfish for everybody. Everybody wins in terms of better fields, better TV, better value for my business partners.”

Whan’s work won’t be done when he does reach 30 events.

“After we get to 30-32, my focus will shift to growing purses and growing TV coverage, to make sure our 32 events are even more impactful and important, rather than just to keep adding weeks to the schedule,” Whan said.

The 2013 schedule will feature more than 300 hours of television coverage.

“We will have more days of coverage, more hours of coverage and more live coverage than we’ve ever seen,” Whan said.

Someday, that might get Whan his own Wikipedia page.

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Top-ranked amateur wins LAAC, earns Masters invite

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 5:38 pm

Joaquin Niemann walked Augusta National Golf Club as a patron last year. He’ll be a competitor in 2018.

Niemann, the top-ranked amateur in the world, shot 8-under 63 Tuesday at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Santiago, Chile, to win the Latin America Amateur Championship.

And with the title, both redemption and an invitation to the Masters Tournament.

Full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Niemann finished runner-up in last year’s LAAC to fellow Chilean Toto Gana. He followed Gana around Augusta grounds, watching as his best friend played two rounds before missing the cut.

Niemann, who was going to turn professional had he not won this week, started the final round one back of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz. Niemann was sluggish from the start on Tuesday, but then drove the 313-yard, par-4 eighth and made the eagle putt. That sparked a run of five birdies over his next six holes.

Niemann was bogey-free in the final round and finished five shots clear of Ortiz, at 11 under.

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Judges Panel, Host Announced for Wilson Golf's "Driver vs. Driver 2," Premiering This Fall on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJanuary 23, 2018, 4:15 pm

‘Driver vs. Driver 2 Presented by Wilson Currently in Production; Sports Broadcaster Melanie Collins Returns to Host

Morning Drive: Driver vs. Driver 2 Judges Announced

Golf Channel and Wilson Golf announced today the panel of judges and host for the second season of Driver vs. Driver, the innovative television series that follows aspiring golf equipment designers as they compete for the opportunity to have their driver idea or concept transformed into the next great golf driver from Wilson. The show is currently in production and will premiere this fall.

Joining judge Tim Clarke, President of Wilson Golf, are two newcomers to the series: 9-time National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star and current NHL on NBC hockey analyst Jeremy Roenick – an avid golfer with a single digit handicap and a self-described golf equipment junkie; and PGA Professional, golf coach, equipment reviewer and social media influencer Rick Shiels.

“Golf is a big passion of mine, and personally I enjoy learning about new equipment and concepts,” said Roenick. “To be able to see this side of the business in how equipment is developed first-hand is fascinating. Being a part of the process in reviewing driver concepts and narrowing them down to an ultimate winning driver that will be sold across the country is a tremendous honor.” 

“Jeremy, as an avid golfer, and Rick, as a coach, equipment reviewer and golf professional, bring incredible, real world insights and different perspectives to the show and this process,” said Clarke. “I’m excited to work alongside these two judges to push the boundaries of innovation and bring a next-generation driver to golfers around the world.”

Sports broadcaster Melanie Collins returns as the host of Driver vs. Driver 2. Currently a sideline reporter for CBS Sports’ college football and basketball coverage, Collins hosted the inaugural season in 2016 and formerly co-hosted Golf Channel’s competition series, Big Break.

Production for Driver vs. Driver 2 began in the fall of 2017 and will continue through the summer, including this week at the PGA Merchandise Show. The series is being produced by Golf Channel, whose portfolio of original productions include interview series Feherty hosted by Emmy-nominated sports personality David Feherty, high-quality instruction shows School of Golf, Golf Channel Academy and Playing Lessons and a slate of award-winning films.

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Tiger Tracker: Farmers Insurance Open

By Tiger TrackerJanuary 23, 2018, 4:00 pm

Tiger Woods is competing in a full-field event for the first time in nearly a year. We're tracking him at this week's Farmers Insurance Open. (Note: Tweets read, in order, left to right)

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Wie's goal to reach goals: Just. Stay. Healthy.

By Randall MellJanuary 23, 2018, 3:30 pm

Michelle Wie’s player bio should come with medical charts.

Her caddie would be well served if he could read X-rays as well as he reads greens.

Remarkably, Wie will begin her 13th full season as a pro when she tees it up Thursday in the LPGA’s season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.

Wie is only 28, but on some days, she must feel like she’s going on 40.

It isn’t the years, it’s the mileage. Her body has too often been like an exotic sports car, a sleek and powerful machine capable of thrilling rides ... when it isn’t sitting it in the shop for weeks for repairs. There’s been one breakdown after another, spoiling her rides.

That’s why one burning desire trumps all others for Wie as she begins this new year.

“Being healthy, staying healthy, it’s my No. 1 priority,” Wie told GolfChannel.com. “I hired private physios at the end of last year, to work on my body. I’ve been working with my doctors in New York, and they’ve been doing a great job of getting me to a place where I’m pain free.

“For the most part, I’m feeling pretty good and pretty healthy. I’ve got little aches and pains from hitting so many balls over the years, but I’m really excited about starting this year. I feel really driven this year. I just want to be healthy so I can build some momentum and be able to play at 100 percent.”

Wie would love to see what she can do in an injury-free, illness-free year after all the promising work she put into rebuilding her game last year. She seemed on the brink of something special again.

“We worked last week, and Michelle looked really, really good,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “It’s quite impressive the way she’s hitting the ball. She is hitting it long and feeling good about her game. So, the main goal really is to see if she can go injury free.”

After winning twice in 2014, including the U.S. Women’s Open, Wie battled through a troublesome finger injury in the second half of that year. Hip, knee and ankle injuries followed the next year. She didn’t just lose all her good momentum. She lost the swing she grooved.

Wie rebuilt it all last year, turning her draw into a dependable fade that allowed her to play more aggressively again. She loved being able to go hard at the ball again, without fearing where it might go. The confidence from that filtered into every part of her game. She started hitting more drivers again.

And Wie found yet another eccentric but effective putting method, abandoning her table-top putting stance for a rotating trio of grips (conventional, left-hand low and claw). She would use them all in a single round. It was weird science, but it worked as she moved to a more classic, upright stance.

“It’s not pretty, but it’s working,” Stacy Lewis said after playing with Wie at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last summer.

Wie said she’s going back and forth between conventional and left-hand low now.

“I can’t promise I’ll stay the same way all year,” Wie said. “But even with different grips, I stayed with the same putting philosophy all year. I want to keep doing that.”

Leadbetter calls Wie a rebel in her approach to the game. She’s a power player, but she carried a 9-wood and 11-wood last year. She says the 11-wood will be back in her bag this week. Her unorthodox ways go beyond technique, strategy and equipment. She’ll be sporting pink hair come Thursday.

“She has never been orthodox,” Leadbetter said. “She doesn’t like to conform. She’s always liked to buck the system in some way.”

Wie looked as if she were poised to make a run at her fifth career title last season. She logged six finishes of fourth place or better the first half of the year. She contended at the ANA Inspiration, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

And then a neck spasm knocked her out of the U.S. Women’s Open.

And then emergency appendectomy surgery knocked her out for six weeks at summer’s end. It kept her from playing the year’s final major, the Evian Championship.

“I can’t list all the injuries Michelle has had in her career,” Leadbetter said. “I don’t think there is one joint or bone in her body that hasn’t had some sort of injury or issue.”

Over the last three seasons alone, Wie has played through bursitis in her left hip, a bone spur in her left foot and inflammation in her left knee. She has battled neck spasms and back spasms. There have been platelet rich plasma injections to aid healing, and there have been too many cortisone injections for her liking.

There also have been ongoing issues in both wrists.

In fact, Wie, who broke two bones in her left wrist early in her career, is dealing with arthritic issues in both wrists of late. She underwent collagen injections this off season to try to be more pain free.

“I’ve had to pull back the last couple years, restrict the number of balls I hit, not practice as much as I would like, but I was able to put in a lot of work this offseason,” Wie said. “I’m excited about this year, but I’ve been smart about things.”

Leadbetter says he has been focusing on injury prevention when working with Wie. He worries about the stress that all the torque she creates can have on her body, with her powerful coil and the way she sometimes likes to hold off shots with her finish. His work, sometimes, is pulling her back from the tinkering she loves to do.

“Everything we do with her swing now is to help prevent injury,” he said.

Leadbetter relishes seeing what’s possible in 2018 if there are no setbacks.

“Michelle would be the first to admit she hasn’t reached anywhere near her potential,” Leadbetter said. “We all know what she is capable of. We’ve had fleeting glimpses. Now, it’s a matter of, ‘OK, let’s see if we can really fulfill the potential she’s had from a very young age.’

“She’s really enthusiastic about this year. She can’t wait to get back in the mix.”