Whan gets LPGA schedule to 'optimum' level

By Randall MellOctober 7, 2015, 5:21 pm

The LPGA’s schedule is almost maxed out.

It’s another testament to the rebuilding job commissioner Mike Whan has orchestrated since taking over the tour five years ago.

With Whan announcing Wednesday that the new Volvik Championship in Michigan is officially being added to next year’s schedule, the LPGA calendar is nearly full, as Whan envisions it. The Volvik Championship is scheduled to be played May 26-29 at Travis Pointe Country Club in Ann Arbor. That’s over Memorial Day weekend.

If the Reignwood Classic in China returns as expected in 2016, the LPGA is looking at a schedule of 33 official events next year. That’s 34 overall events with the unofficial International Crown included.

Almost from the day he became commissioner five years ago, Whan has said he believes 34 official events are optimum.

“Somebody said, ‘Why would you stop there?’” Whan said. “I think at the LPGA, we can’t get away with having only two of the top 50 in the field of an event and have the sponsor be happy, TV be happy and have our ratings stay high. I found out pretty quickly that over the history of the LPGA, top players play three, four, maybe five weeks in a row. They don’t play 17 weeks in a row. So we try to build a schedule like that.

“With 33 or 34 events, we can take strategic breaks through the year. We can have an off-season, which both the players and the commissioner prefer. We take a couple months off between Thanksgiving and the middle of January. So when you put those things together, and avoid some monster weeks, like the Masters and men’s majors that take over the airwaves, that gives us 34 saleable weeks, which is where we really are as a tour.”

Whan has rebuilt the LPGA schedule from an anemic 23 events in 2011.

Whan says the beauty of having a manageable schedule of 34 tournaments is that it enhances every event.

“The exciting thing for me is the first five years I spent as commissioner was about growing the schedule,” Whan said. “In my last year and a half, it’s really been about making the events we have bigger.”

The Volvik Championship is scheduled as a 72-hole event with a field of 144 players and a $1.3 million purse. Volvik signed a three-year contract as title sponsor.

In rebuilding the LPGA schedule, Whan has expanded both international and domestic opportunities. The 2016 schedule looks as if it will feature 23 domestic/North American events, including the International Crown. That’s up from 14 just four years ago.

“I think when I started, I talked a lot about being a global tour, about embracing playing worldwide, and I think a lot of players kind of cringed, like ‘Uh-oh, we’re going to be nomads going all over the world,’” Whan said. “I want to be a lot like our sponsors. I want to have a hometown. I want employees to feel like we live in the same area, but I want to make sure we reach out and grow globally.

“I like tennis, but I find tennis moves around so much. I don’t know where their home is. Most of their players don’t live in the same country. They live wherever they live and just fly to events. In the case of the LPGA, I find most players were moving to America. They were building homes here, making this their base. I want to give them a home base for their tour. You look at the LPGA now, you have to say we’re very global, we’re willing to go, but we’re very committed to this being our home. North America is our home, and that’s where we’ve really invested in events.”

Next year’s schedule also looks as if it will feature nine more full-field events than it did just four years ago.

“We definitely needed to add full-field events,” Whan said. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t just adding events, but opportunities.

“You never have enough full-field events to make the membership – with a capital M – happy. I get that. There’s nothing worse than being on the LPGA tour and then watching somebody else compete in Malaysia. That really becomes obvious this time of the year, when we’re only taking 62 to 64 players for the next few events.”

Whan said it’s unlikely the Asian events will ever become full-field events with cuts, especially those at the end of the schedule, because of travel and other logistics. He said year-end limited field events will probably continue to serve as bonuses for players who earned enough money to qualify to play in them. There are no cuts in those events.

“When they go over there now, they know they’re making money,” Whan said. “That’s why everybody goes and the fields are so strong.

“Some players might not like it, but the bottom line is you had all season to play yourself into them. As Stacy Lewis said to me one time, it’s almost like dessert. If you eat well at dinner, you get to go over to Asia to have dessert.” 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.