Founders Looking to Find a Future

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2011, 11:13 pm

RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup

PHOENIX – His first morning in the desert this week, Mike Whan took a jog across Wildfire Golf Club.

The LPGA commissioner stopped in front of the Founders Walk of Fame behind the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa.

He stopped to soak in the reverent atmosphere his tour has created this week with giant photographs of the 13 LPGA founders on banners hanging between the ninth and 18th greens at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup.

“I don’t think we’ve done a great job of remembering our past,” Whan said. “It’s not that it hasn’t been important, but we just don’t remember where we came from enough. I have no doubt this event will evolve into something bigger and better over the years.”

Whan begins his second year as commissioner knowing his membership has the same bold vision for the tour as a whole. He says this is the year the tour has to prove it can win back title sponsors.

Whan’s finding inspiration for that pursuit in the spirit of the tour’s founders.

The LPGA commissioner loves hearing how those women barnstormed the country building the tour 61 years ago.

Starting the tour was daunting work for the founders, not knowing if their sacrifices would pay off. There were just 14 tournaments in that first season in 1950, and it was hardly a glamorous life they created for themselves. In those early years, players did just about everything themselves. They typed up tournament press releases, set the daily pins, marked hazards, managed the pairings, oversaw scorekeeping and counted gate receipts before dividing their take.

That’s why the Founders Cup means so much to Whan.

This event’s his baby, and the question this week isn’t so much whether the Founders Cup will flourish, but whether the LPGA can flourish as a sports entity again.

Mike Whan of the LPGA
Mike Whan took over as commissioner of the LPGA in 2010. (Getty Images)

Whan was handed a daunting challenge when he took over as commissioner.

He was handed a tour on the verge of collapse.

A tour that once boasted 40 events scrambled and scrapped to field 24 events.

The 2010 schedule felt as if it were held together with bandages.

After a year of healing, it feels like the bandages are off, or at least they should be.

The addition of RR Donnelley as this week's title sponsor and CME Group as title sponsor of the season-ending Titleholders championship were positive signs.

“We want to keep the momentum we’ve built the last few months,” Whan said. “The U.S. economy is bouncing back. We are not living in 2007 just yet, but we also don’t feel like we are living in 2009 either. Between CME Group and RR Donnelley becoming title sponsors, we’ve seen some big sponsors, that have played with the LPGA at a certain level in the past, playing on another level now. We have a couple more I feel like are close to doing the same thing.

“I feel the domestic momentum building. Internationally, we’ve had some pretty good action, and that will continue, but I think 2011 has to be the year we prove we can woo sponsors back.”

That makes this feel like an important, if not pivotal, year in the reconstruction of the LPGA.

“I don’t like the word pivotal,” said four-time LPGA winner Angela Stanford. “I think we’ve been through the tough time. In my opinion, it’s an important year, but it seems like every year’s important now. I really think we’ve been through the toughest times with the economy turning around.”

If that’s true, players want to see the tour rebounding with the economy.

They want to see more U.S. based events. That’s the mandate Whan’s feeling from his membership.

The LPGA had 24 U.S. events in 2008, but that’s down to 13.

Though we’re 11 weeks into the new year, the LPGA’s playing just its third tournament. There were six weeks off at the start of the year, and there’s just one LPGA event on the schedule in April, an important month for golf equipment manufacturers.

Whan is just as motivated as his players to see the number of events grow with new title sponsors joining the fold this year.

You can ask his wife.

“My wife said to me the other day, 'you’ve been in a bad mood the last couple weeks',” Whan said. “I told her it’s hard to watch the Golf Channel on Sunday and watch somebody else play. Nothing against the Golf Channel, but it’s hard to be in a good mood when I know we should be playing. I told her April is going to be worse, but I promise I’ll be better after April.”

Whan’s players want him to be in a great mood for his wife come next April.

“This is a very important year for us,” LPGA veteran Cristie Kerr said. “Mike’s had a year as commissioner under his belt to see how things run and to get introduced to all the partners we have. I think he’s done a good job his first year, but I think now is the time to build and go after new sponsorships, to foster new relationships, especially in the United States.

“Whatever it takes to get it done, we just need to try to keep building business.”

Hall of Famer Karrie Webb joined the LPGA’s Player Board this year and is eager to help steer the tour back into a growth mode.

“Last year was a very important year,” Webb said. “Mike did a really good job his first year. I think this year and maybe next year are years where he can get down to the business of selling us rather than having to stabilize the ship and trying to find a direction where we’re headed. Now, we sort of have that direction. Now, it’s about putting that plan into place. It’s all out on this year, but I think the next two years are important.”

Whan enters the year with the confidence of his players. There were serious issues about the original design of the Founders Cup format, with some top players questioning Whan's plan, but he seemed to have smoothed over most of that by integrating player suggestions. That helped ease the threat to the trust he built with his players and LPGA partners over his first year. Now, there’s even harder work, building that relationship with new partners.

“Mike deals with so many conflicting demands,” LPGA veteran Wendy Ward said. “I’ve seen four commissioners now in my time on the LPGA, and the thing I like about Mike is he’s a good a listener, a good communicator who shoots straight with people. He’s a good businessman, and with all of that comes passion and energy. He came in at a tough time, with some tough demands and he’s been able to please just about everybody.”

Whan will need all that energy and passion to build on what the founders created. He’s finding inspiration from them this week.


Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

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Twitter spat turns into fundraising opportunity

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 6:30 pm

Country music star Jake Owen, along with Brandt Snedeker, has turned a spat on Twitter into a fundraising campaign that will support Snedeker’s foundation.

On Thursday, Owen was criticized during the opening round of the Web.com Tour’s Nashville Golf Open, which benefits the Snedeker Foundation, for his poor play after opening with an 86.

In response, Snedeker and country singer Chris Young pledged $5,000 for every birdie that Owen makes on Friday in a campaign called NGO Birdies for Kids

Although Owen, who is playing the event on a sponsor exemption, doesn’t tee off for Round 2 in Nashville until 2 p.m. (CT), the campaign has already generated interest, with NBC Sports/Golf Channel analyst Peter Jacobsen along with Web.com Tour player Zac Blair both pledging $100 for every birdie Owen makes.

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Noren so impressed by Rory: 'I'm about to quit golf'

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 5:33 pm

Alex Noren won the BMW PGA Championship last year, one of his nine career European Tour victories.

He opened his title defense at Wentworth Club in 68-69 and is tied for fourth through two rounds. Unfortunately, he's five back of leader Rory McIlroy. And after playing the first two days alongside McIlroy, Noren, currently ranked 19th in the world, doesn't seem to like his chances of back-to-back wins.

McIlroy opened in 67 and then shot a bogey-free 65 in second round, which included pars on the pair of par-5 finishing holes. Noren walked away left in awe.

"That's the best round I've ever seen," Noren said. "I'm about to quit golf, I think."

Check out the full interview below:

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Bubba gets to drive dream car: K.I.T.T. from 'Knight Rider'

By Grill Room TeamMay 25, 2018, 4:42 pm

Bubba Watson is a known car aficionado.

He purchased the original General Lee from the 1980’s TV show “Dukes of Hazzard” – later saying he was going to paint over the Confederate flag on the vehicle’s roof.

He also auctioned off his 1939 Cadillac LaSalle C-Hawk custom roadster and raised $410,000 for Birdies for the Brave.

He showed off images of his off-road Jeep two years ago.

And he even bought a car dealership near his hometown of Milton, Fla.

While recently appearing on the TV show “Jay Leno’s Garage,” the former “Tonight Show” host surprised Watson with another one of his dream cars: K.I.T.T.

The 1982 Pontiac Trans Am was made famous in the ‘80s action show “Knight Rider.”

Though, Bubba didn’t get to keep this one, he did get to drive it.

Bubba Watson gets behind the wheel of his dream car—the KITT from Knight Rider from CNBC.

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Cut Line: USGA readies for Shinnecock 'mulligan'

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 3:26 pm

In this week’s Memorial weekend edition, the European team adheres to the Ryder Cup secret formula, the USGA readies for the ultimate mulligan at next month’s U.S. Open and a bizarre finish at the Florida Mid-Am mystifies the Rules of Golf.

Made Cut

Cart golf. When the U.S. side announced the creation of a Ryder Cup task force following the American loss at Gleneagles in 2014, some Europeans privately – and publicly – snickered.

The idea that the secret sauce could be found in a meeting room did stretch the bounds of reason, yet two years later the U.S. team emerged as winners at Hazeltine National and suddenly the idea of a task force, which is now called a committee, didn’t seem so silly.

To Europe’s credit, they’ve always accomplished this cohesion organically, pulling together their collective knowledge with surprising ease, like this week when European captain Thomas Bjorn rounded out his vice captain crew.

Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald (a group that has a combined 47-40-13 record in the matches) were all given golf cart keys and will join Robert Karlsson as vice captains this year in Paris.

Perhaps it took the Americans a little longer to figure out, but Bjorn knows it’s continuity that wins Ryder Cups.



Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

The USGA’s mulligan. The U.S. Open is less than a month away and with it one of the most anticipated returns in recent major championship history.

The last time the national championship was played at Shinnecock Hills was in 2004 and things didn’t go well, particularly on Sunday when play had to be stopped to water some greens that officials deemed had become unplayable. This week USGA executive director Mike Davis was asked about the association’s last trip to the Hamptons and, to his credit, he didn’t attempt to reinvent history.

“Looking back at 2004, and at parts of that magnificent day with Retief (Goosen) and Phil Mickelson coming down to the end, there are parts that we learned from,” Davis said. “I’m happy we got a mulligan this time. We probably made a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey.”

Put another way, players headed to next month’s championship should look forward to what promises to be a Bounce Back Open.

Tweet of the week:

Homa joined a chorus of comments following Aaron Wise’s victory on Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson, which included an awkward moment when his girlfriend, Reagan Trussell, backed away as Wise was going in for a kiss.

“No hard feelings at all,” Wise clarified this week. “We love each other a ton and we're great. It was a funny moment that I think we'll always be able to look back at, but that's all it really was.”


Missed Cut

Strength of field. The European Tour gathers this week in England for the circuit’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and like the PGA Tour’s marquee stop, The Players, the event appears headed for a new spot on the calendar next year.

As the PGA Tour inches closer to announcing the 2018-19 schedule, which will feature countless new twists and turns including the PGA Championship’s move to May and The Players shift back to March, it also seems likely the makeover will impact the European Tour schedule.

Although the BMW PGA currently draws a solid field, with this week’s event sporting a higher strength of field than the Fort Worth Invitational on the PGA Tour, it’s likely officials won’t want to play the event a week after the PGA Championship (which is scheduled for May 16-19 next year).

In fact, it’s been rumored that the European Tour could move all eight of its Rolex Series events, which are billed as “unmissable sporting occasions,” out of the FedExCup season window, which will end on Aug. 25 next year.

Although the focus has been on how the new PGA Tour schedule will impact the U.S. sports calendar, the impact of the dramatic makeover stretches will beyond the Lower 48.

Rules of engagement. For a game that at times seems to struggle with too much small print and antiquated rules, it’s hard to understand how things played out earlier this month at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship.

In a story first reported by GolfChannel.com, Jeff Golden claimed he was assaulted on May 13 by Brandon Hibbs – the caddie for his opponent, Marc Dull, in the championship’s final match. Golden told police that Hibbs struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.

The incident occurred during a weather delay and Golden conceded the match to Dull after the altercation, although he wrote in a post on Twitter this week that he was disappointed with the Florida State Golf Association’s decision to accept his concession.

“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”

Because of the conflicting statements, it’s still not clear what exactly happened that day at Coral Creek Club, but the No. 1 rule in golf – protecting the competition and the competitors – seems to have fallen well short.