RICHMOND, Texas – Michael Whan is piling up mileage hiking around the LPGA Tour Championship.
The new commissioner, who doesn’t assume his role until Jan. 4, is making strong impressions with his visibility in his first appearance at an LPGA event.
When Morgan Pressel looked up at the ninth hole Thursday, Whan was in the crowd.
After Stacy Lewis signed her scorecard, she got a fist bump from the new commissioner.
He hiked up and down the driving range Wednesday at the pro-am meeting players and later that night was grilled by them during a special commissioner’s forum for players.
“I like him,” Lewis said. “I like the way he talks about the future. He really wants to listen to us and what we have to say, which I think is what we’ve needed for awhile.”
Lewis acknowledged the new commissioner’s task will be tall that way.
“He said he talked to 40 different players after getting the job and all 40 players wanted something different,” Lewis said.
Whan ended the forum giving all the players his e-mail address. He said he’d be willing to give them his cell phone, too, but they would have to e-mail and ask him for it. He also gave tournament owners and sponsors his e-mail and cell phone information during the Tournament Owners Association meeting last week.
Whan opened Wednesday night's forum sharing details about his life as a husband and father of three sons.
“He shared a lot about his family,” said Heather Daly-Donofrio, a two-time LPGA winner and player liaison. “He shared that before he shared anything about business. That was nice, to get an insight into what kind of person he is, to learn what his priorities are.”
LPGA President Michelle Ellis said family was a strong theme at the forum.
“He really bases his job around being a family,” Ellis said. “He talked about how important family is to him, and he wants to be part of our family.”
Through much of this year, especially in a player revolt that led to the ouster of Carolyn Bivens as commissioner, the LPGA was too much a dysfunctional family. Whan will be looking to change that.
Tour pros better get used to the idea that they are a global family, because Whan also emphasized the global nature of the tour and how important that is to its future. While American players want more American events, Whan made it clear he will continue to seek playing opportunities wherever they occur around the world.
“He shared his vision as it relates to the schedule,” Daly-Donofrio said. “He talked about how the schedule doesn’t have to fit everybody. Ideally, we’ll build a schedule where if you want to play domestically, you can tailor your schedule to that. If you are a player who likes to play overseas, we’ll have a schedule for you. If you are a player who wants to play here and abroad, we'll have a schedule for you. The idea is to create enough playing opportunities that players can have the best of both worlds.”
Given the shrunken nature of the schedule the LPGA released Wednesday, that makes the commissioner’s vision bold and his challenge enormous. The 24-event schedule released is the smallest in nearly four decades. Players have made it clear that they want Whan to give them more chances to play.