ORLANDO, Fla. – Mike Whan didn’t want the LPGA commissioner’s job a year ago.
He confesses this in the clubhouse at Grand Cypress Golf Club Wednesday. He confesses it after the crowd has disappeared at the end of media day activities for the new LPGA Tour Championship scheduled to be played here Dec. 2-5.
“I probably shouldn't say this, but when I first got the call from the recruiter about the commissioner’s job, my reaction was, `I don’t think this job is for me,’” Whan says.
A year ago, Whan was living in Southern California with his wife and their three children, working as a consultant after selling Mission Itech hockey, a small hockey equipment company he helped build into the darling of the larger company that bought it. He was at home when Jed Hughes, a recruiter with the executive search firm Spencer Stuart, called him on behalf of the LPGA.
“My promise to my wife was that whatever we did next, we wouldn't have to move,” Whan said. “The other thing I promised is that we wouldn't have much travel. So, when the recruiter said, `Hey, Mike, I have this thing, and it’s perfect fit for you,’ I said it’s not a perfect fit. It was a move to Florida, to a job where you traveled just about every day. To his credit, Jed kept calling me and calling me, and he kept saying, `I think you’re the right guy for the job.’”
On Oct. 28 of last year, the LPGA’s Board of Directors approved Whan as its new commissioner.
Though Whan didn’t officially begin his new position until Jan. 1 of this year, he was on the job moments after the board’s approval, preparing for the challenge of his life.
“At first, I said to the board, `I don’t think I can do this job, because I don’t think you can be a good father and be a good commissioner,’” Whan remembers. “At least, if you can, I need to talk to somebody who’s doing it.”
Charlie Mechem, a former LPGA commissioner, convinced Whan that he could do both jobs and be an inspiration to his children while doing it. Mechem told Whan that when Whan’s children became teenagers, they would stop listening to him and start watching him. He told Whan that if he wanted his children to follow their passions, he would have to show them how. It was the idea that led Whan to take the job. He’s been showing his children and LPGA staff how to do just that ever since.
All of this was notable Wednesday because Whan is selling the LPGA’s new Tour Championship as a homecoming for his players, his LPGA staff and his own transplanted family.
Whan said it will feel like an LPGA home game because it will be played in Orlando, a city that is home to 50 LPGA players and because it will be just a short drive from the LPGA offices, where his staff will have a strong presence the entire week. Anna Nordqvist, the defending champ, has a home near Grand Cypress and plays the course a lot.
And Whan lives in nearby Lake Mary, on the northeast side of Orlando.
“This is the first press conference in my nine or 10 months on the job that I’ve been able to drive to,” Whan said. “This will be the first tournament I drive to. It will be the first tournament we are playing where I can kiss my kids good night at the end of the day.”
Whan’s showing more than his children how to pursue their passions as a parent and professional. He’s showing his players.
While Whan is a fixture at so many LPGA events, a regular in so many LPGA pro-ams, he’s nearly always home on Fridays for a full family weekend sports schedule. His oldest son, Austin, 16, is a receiver for Bishop Moore High School. His middle son, Wesley, 14, plays travel hockey. His youngest son, Connor, 13, plays baseball.
“Being a good father and a good commissioner, that’s still my biggest concern,” Whan said of juggling family and career. “I fight the battle.
“If you look for me on Friday at an LPGA tournament, I’m not there, because I’m at the Bishop Moore Friday night football games my son is playing in. Saturday mornings, you can call me, but I’m at my son’s Little League game. Two weeks from now, I’m taking my middle son to Detroit for a hockey tournament.
“I’ll work a lot of hours, but that stuff has to be off limits.”
With the LPGA gearing up to add a tournament or two next year, to equal or surpass this year's schedule despite these hard economic times, you won’t find many LPGA pros who doubt Whan’s commitment and his passion. You also won’t find many begrudging him a home game in the year’s final LPGA event.