Free thinker

By Randall MellJanuary 7, 2011, 8:40 pm

The RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup will be Mike Whan’s legacy.

The bold idea he unveiled Thursday is destined to define his run as LPGA commissioner.

How will this one-of-a-kind event ultimately be remembered? As good business or bad business? As altruistic or imperiled? As brilliant or loony?

They’re all on the table with Whan’s reign beginning its second season and the tour still fighting to rebuild itself.

Give the man credit, though, he’s got more than grand vision. He’s got guts.

Whan essentially stepped in front of his players in the middle of a tough year last season and asked them to annually commit to playing a full-field event for free. He asked them to do so to honor the tour’s founding pioneers and to help build a better future. He asked them to make a giant sacrifice when many of his rank-and-file players are struggling to meet expenses.

It is a giant ask given the bare-boned nature of the women’s tour today.

Imagine PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem asking his players to compete in a full-field official event for free. If Finchem’s membership didn’t think he bumped his head coming in to see them, they would have made sure he bumped his head on the way out. His pros give a lot to charity, but they’d never agree to that.

The LPGA Founders Cup will open the American start of this year’s schedule March 18-20 in Phoenix at the Wildfire Golf Club at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa. It’s a 54-hole event with a 132-player field and a unique purse. Really, it’s an imaginary purse. Though Founders Cup “winnings” will count toward the official money list, any “money” won will not go into player pockets. It will be donated to the LPGA Foundation, which funds the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf Program.

Even the wisest of LPGA pros couldn’t help scratching their heads when they first heard Whan’s Founders Cup plan.

It’s gallant, it’s big-hearted, but in the strictest business sense, is it the right idea at the wrong time?

The LPGA will play one more event in 2011 than they did last year, but they’ll be playing it without pay.

“The first reaction is, `Whew, we only have nine or 10 domestic events and we’re going to play one of them for free?” Hall of Famer Juli Inkster said. “I’m not sure I have an opinion yet. I’m not sure I know how the whole thing’s going to work, what we’re trying to do, what the objective is. I have to find out more, but it seems like, if you have a sponsor, why wouldn’t you play for a purse? I’m just trying to figure it out.”

You can, after all, fund a charity and get paid.

Two-time major championship winner Cristie Kerr said she needs some time to digest the plan’s details before commenting.

Obviously, the event’s success depends on the support of the elite players who drive interest. While Whan doesn’t know how many top-10 players will commit, he says he isn’t worried. He feels overwhelming support from players and is confident it will feature a strong field.

“I would say most players, 98 percent of the players, are for this,” three-time LPGA winner Brittany Lincicome said. “It was sort of a crazy concept. At first, we looked at each other like, `OK, this is different.’ But we know our commissioner is dedicated to making the tour better. I’ll be there. I’m excited about it.”

Count two-time LPGA winner Christina Kim in Whan’s court.

“I can’t speak on behalf of all players, but I think it’s a progressive idea, a noble idea,” Kim said. “It gets us back to our roots and reminds everyone what we’re about.”

Whan said he came up with the idea listening to Hall of Famer Louise Suggs and other LPGA founders talk about what they sacrificed to build the tour. Whan said Marilynn Smith, one of the tour’s 13 founders back in 1950, wept while thanking him for creating the event. Whan expects the size of the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf foundation to double next year and triple the year after that.

“Players have heard me say many times, you only have one goal if you’re a part of the LPGA, that’s to leave the game better than you found it,” Whan said. “With this new tournament, it’s not only a chance to celebrate the women who put this tour on the map, it also gives us a huge chance to pay it forward.”

The Founders Cup encapsulates what Whan believes the tour should be all about, and it promises to test how what his membership believes about his business skill.

“I’m sure there were plenty members of my staff holding their breath as I presented my idea of the Founders Cup 2011,” Whan said. “At the time, we didn’t have a sponsor yet, but I took the players through the entire presentation and why I thought this was the right thing to do. At the end of the discussion, there was no discussion. Everyone stood up and applauded. There was a standing ovation. It was a strange and exciting reaction.”

Players are a predictable breed. They loved Carolyn Bivens when she was hired before Whan, but they ran her off when her business model failed in a sinking economy.

Whan’s Founders Cup may prove a great addition to the LPGA, but he better build more playing opportunities to go with it. Ideals aside, he shares the same bottom line that cost Bivens her job. Whan says he’s got at least three strong probable additions to next year’s schedule, possibly one this year.

The inaugural Founders Cup will be a success. It’s difficult to imagine top-10 tour pros having the nerve to pass playing. They’d risk being chastised as ingrates. It’s easy, however, to imagine players growing resentful of the commitment if they’re required to play this event annually without the tour growing around it.

When Bivens was hired, she believed the tour was undervaluing itself, that its business culture was soft and that sponsors took unfair advantage. She believed the tour was giving away too much of value. She might have failed in her heavy-handed approach, but if Whan’s model doesn’t work, old notions about the tour will be reinforced.

The Founders Cup encapsulates so much of who Whan is and what he’s come to believe about the LPGA’s mission as both a business and an association.

“Mike seems to have a plan for this,” Inkster said. “He’s not one to fly off the handle with something. He really thinks things through.

“I like what Mike’s doing overall. He’s building a solid foundation. Sponsors trust him, the media trusts him, the outside world trusts him. I think he’s got a lot of positive karma. Players aren’t complaining about him, they’re totally behind him.”

They’re behind a crazy idea to play for free. Whether they remember Whan kindly for it won’t depend on the Founders Cup as much as what comes after it.

Getty Images

Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

Getty Images

Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

Getty Images

Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

Getty Images

Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.