When Michael Whan was named the LPGA’s new commissioner, he said his initiation would be all about listening and learning.
Thirty days into the job, he revealed he has enlisted a team of highly regarded teachers to guide his continuing education.
Whan told GolfChannel.com that he has hand picked four confidants to serve as his advisory council as he rebuilds the tour.
Hall of Famers Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam, former LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem and former J.C. Penny CEO W.R. Howell are lending their expertise to the commissioner’s cause.
Whan makes it clear they aren’t in place for show, or because their names look good on paper. The commissioner’s actively engaging them with the LPGA season only two weeks away.
“I’ll call Charlie Mechem every three to four days,” Whan said. “Every time I get on the phone with him, I have 20 notes when I get off, and I love them. He’s full of good thoughts, and, most importantly, he has a good heart. He’s really there for the LPGA and personally I feel like he’s there for me.”
Mechem served as the LPGA commissioner from 1991 to ’95.
Lopez is seventh on the LPGA career victory list with 48 titles, six of them majors.
Sorenstam is third in career LPGA victories with 72, 10 of them majors.
Howell headed J.C. Penney from 1983 to ’97 and sits on the board of directors of numerous major corporations, including ExxonMobil, Deutsche Bank Trust and Warner-Lampert.
“When Mike was hired, I called to let him know I was there for him and the LPGA,” Lopez said. “I have a passion for the LPGA. It’s my other family, and I like Mike. I watched him speak at the PGA Merchandise Show, and he brings a different feeling to a room. He’s very personable and approachable, and you need that. You want corporate sponsors welcoming him, not dreading their meetings with him. He’s very positive.”
Whan said Lopez may play an integral role in the wooing of a future sponsor, a deal he wouldn’t detail but hopes leads to an announcement soon.
Mechem has quickly become more than an adviser to Whan.
“He’s a mentor,” Whan said. “I told him I’m not sure you want to mentor me, but I’m not leaving you alone.”
Whan and Mechem share Cincinnati connections. Whan’s mother, Karen, worked as a legal secretary there for the law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister. Mechem worked at the same firm before he became the LPGA’s fourth commissioner, succeeding William Blue. Whan wasn’t aware of the connection until he was deep in the interview process with the LPGA and they began speaking.
When it became clear the LPGA’s search was focusing on Whan, Mechem offered a crucial piece of advice that would lead to Whan accepting the job offer. Whan has a golf background, having worked his way up to executive vice president/general manager of TaylorMade North America in the late ‘90s, but he left golf and would eventually become CEO of Mission Itech Hockey. He wasn’t sure his family was ready for him to make the move to LPGA commissioner.
“I was going through the exercise of whether a 44-year-old guy with three kids could do this job and still be the kind of father you want to be,” Whan said. “Charlie talked to me like my father and mother would, and he helped me think it through. I asked him if you could do the commissioner’s job appropriately, spend the time in the field, spend the time with all the constituents, can you do that and raise a family at the same time? Or am I 10 years away from this job, when my kids are in college?”
Mechem assured Whan he could do both while being a terrific example to his children in showing them the right way to pursue their life’s passions.
“I’m impressed with Mike, and I think he’s going to do a wonderful job as commissioner,” Mechem said. “The tour was an important part of my life and continues to be, and anything I can do to help him, with my background and the friends I still have in golf, I’m glad to do.”
Mechem’s connections led to Howell’s joining Whan’s advisory council. Mechem introduced Whan to Howell two months ago. The relationship Whan’s forging with Howell says a lot about Whan’s focus as he begins his new job.
“Almost all the businesses he’s associated with today have sports interests and understand the value of sports entities on the brand,” Whan said.
Whan’s focus in his first 30 days is rebuilding the LPGA schedule and relationships with title sponsors. The LPGA schedule shrank from 34 official events in 2008 to 24 this year. The announcement last week that Sybase was returning and will sponsor the Match Play Championship was good news for a tour that might not be done adding to this year’s schedule.
“In simplest terms, tournaments will always be priority one,” Whan said. “The reason is that when we are playing, everyone wins. The players are winning, the sponsors are winning because we are doing something together to grow their brand and grow their businesses. The local charities and brands are winning. And, girls and women around the world are seeing the best playing. When we are not playing, none of that is happening.
“My job is to make sure we are all winning. Are there a lot of other priorities? Sure. As I’ve said to staff many times, as you’re driving home at night, if you didn’t spend 60 percent of your time on tournaments, change it tomorrow.”
Whan will spend a lot of his time on tournaments with his new advisers.