RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – While the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst may be approaching with some LPGA pros apprehensive about the course conditions that will await them, tour commissioner Mike Whan still likes the potential upside of following the men there.
Whan has heard the fears his players have with the U.S. Women’s Open scheduled in June on the same course the U.S. Open will be played the week before, and he hasn’t tried to muzzle them, even with his optimism this unprecedented arrangement could pay huge dividends for the women’s game.
“I always say at players meetings, `Here’s what I hope you say, but at the end of the day, I can’t tell you what to say, because you are professional athletes, you are independent contractors. Say what you want to say,’” Whan said at the Kraft Nabisco Championship this week. “But what I tell our players is: `Remember, the USGA is our largest title sponsor.' People don’t like to think of it that way, but without them, we lose the greatest [title sponsor].”
While some players worry they may be getting a “hand-me-down” Open, with the men potentially leaving them a pock-marked course full of divots, Whan sees the possibility of new audiences tuning into see the women.
“What I like about this is: When was the last time in April we were talking about the U.S. Women’s Open? In my five years, the answer is never,” Whan said. “I did more interviews on the US Women’s Open in January.
“Is there potential more people will care about the U.S. Women’s Open than ever before? Absolutely. Will some of that be related to who hit out of what divot? Yeah, probably. Will that be frustrating for players, yes? But when you ask me as commissioner, this is a huge upside opportunity.”
During the men's play, Whan said the USGA is offering to share some of the spotlight with the women, to invite them to be part of the telecast, to promote the U.S. Women's Open.
“The USGA’s been really cool about what we can do,” Whan said. “Putting our players in the Saturday and Sunday [TV] booth when they’re getting a gazillion rating is cool. I’m excited about that. From a pure business perspective, it has a huge upside, even if there is some of the negative stuff.”
Whan wants his players to give this “experiment” a chance. He said he told them: “I can tell you where we are going to play the next five U.S. Women’s Opens, and they aren’t the same place as the men. It’s not like we are going to this as a long-term strategy. It’s a test, and you’ve been a part of a lot of experiments. The Founders Cup, Titleholders, CME Globe, these have all been experiments.”