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Michael Whan named new LPGA commissioner

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LPGA Tour _newMichael Whan is the LPGA’s new commissioner.

Whan, 44, a former executive vice president of TaylorMade Adidas Golf North America, was approved as the tour’s next leader in a vote of the LPGA’s Board of Directors Tuesday night when GolfChannel.com first reported the news. He was introduced in a news conference Wednesday morning at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Whan comes to the tour from Mission-ITECH Hockey, a company makes and markets hockey gear for players on ice skates or roller blades.

Whan will officially assume his duties on Jan. 4, 2010.

Whan’s hiring comes as a surprise. His name never surfaced publicly in the interview process. He will take over for Marty Evans, who was named acting commissioner after Carolyn Bivens was forced out in a player revolt in July.
Michael Whan
Michael Whan, the LPGA's new commissioner. (Getty Images)
“It’s rare to work for an organization that combines all the passions in your life, but with the LPGA, I feel I’ve been presented with the unique opportunity to do just that,” Whan said. “First, this is an association surrounded by passionate, value-driven people. Second, I’m energized by the brand building and the work involved in marketing and growing the sport. Third, I simply love the game of golf – both the life lessons it teaches and the friendships it helps create.”

Considered perhaps the most important hire in the history of the LPGA, Whan inherits an organization faced with considerable challenges. The LPGA has announced just 18 tournaments as under contract for next year and projects having between 22 and 25 on the schedule next year. The tour hasn’t put out a schedule with fewer than 25 tournaments since 1971. There are 27 tournaments on this year’s schedule, down from 34 last year. Cumulative prize money for next year could dip to below $40 million, down from $64 million last year.

Whan served as executive vice president of TaylorMade from 1996 to 2000, leaving the position to become president of worldwide marketing for Britesmile, Inc. He was described as a “seasoned marketing executive” in Britesmile’s news release announcing his hiring. Before joining TaylorMade, Whan held various positions at Procter & Gamble between 1987 and '95, including director of marketing.

With the LPGA trying to rebuild relationships with title sponsors lost over the last two seasons, Whan will have little time to acclimate to the job. After forcing out Bivens, tour players issued a mandate to acting commissioner Evans that they wanted her to focus on seeking more playing opportunities. That mandate will carry over to Whan. His challenge will be luring back long-time title sponsors as well as attracting new ones.

The LPGA has challenges beyond the poor economic climate. With Lorena Ochoa’s play dropping off, the LPGA lacks a dominant star. With South Korea continuing to rise as the tour’s dominant force, there is a troubling disconnection with too many English speaking fans. With Americans struggling to win on the American-based tour, there’s a disconnection at home, where there are fewer and fewer domestic events on the schedule. These are among the reasons this hire was considered so critical.

The fact that the general public won't be familiar with Whan's name, or his credentials, may raise questions about who was and wasn't interested in the position. Whan, however, brings strong marketing credentials and a golf background Bivens didn't have.

Whan and his wife, Meg, and his three children, Austin (15), Wesley (13) and Connor (12), currently live in California and will relocate to the LPGA’s Daytona Beach, Fla., headquarters next year.

Note: Golf Central will have complete coverage of the news Wednesday at 6 p.m. and the news conference announcing Whan as commissioner will follow at 6:30 p.m.