LPGA commissioner Whan making an impact

By Randall MellJanuary 15, 2013, 5:43 pm

When Mike Whan was hired as the LPGA commissioner at the end of 2009, nobody knew who he was.

There was a mad scramble among media to learn more about the former CEO of Mission Itech Hockey. Even LPGA pros had no clue who this guy was.

Today, three years after Whan’s hire, Wikipedia still has no entry devoted to him.

That’s just fine with Whan, 47, because he prefers making his impact behind the scenes, and he’s quietly making a profound impact in the women’s game.

After taking over in tough economic times, Whan has rescued a sinking ship.

Whan doesn’t like hearing that, and he doesn’t believe it’s an accurate description of the state of the tour when he took over, but there were serious doubts about the future of the LPGA with so many title sponsors abandoning ship as he was taking the rudder.

In ’08, there were 34 official LPGA events, 24 of them domestic events.

By 2011, there were just 23 total official events left.

You have to know those numbers to appreciate Tuesday’s release of the LPGA’s 2013 schedule.

There will be 28 events this year. While that is just one more than a year ago, it’s six more check-cashing events than two years ago. It’s $8.5 million more in total prize money over 2011. And Whan might not be done this year. He hopes to be able to announce a 29th event in the coming month, a West Coast event to be played in late September.

Momentum isn’t a dirty word in the LPGA ranks anymore.

Whan’s turning that around.

“There was definitely a negative trend and that was concerning for a lot of us,” said Rob Neal, chair of the LPGA Tournament Owners Association Board and executive director of the Tournament Golf Foundation. “Mike’s job, No. 1, was to stop the negative trend and create a solid foundation to turn things around and create some positive momentum.”

Basically, Whan has turned around a crisis of confidence in LPGA leadership.

Whan’s predecessor, Carolyn Bivens, didn’t have an easy task as the LPGA’s first female commissioner. A sour economy, and her heavy-handed tactics with tournament owners, conspired to unhinge the organization. A player revolt forced her departure and created serious questions about the tour’s future.

If so many longtime LPGA partners no longer had confidence in the tour’s leadership, why would prospective new sponsors have any?

That was the challenge Whan faced.

“We needed a new face and a new kind of energy to build the confidence in everybody at the LPGA and in the LPGA family,” Neal said. “I think Mike’s brought that.”

Whan’s formula is as basic as creating a genuine partnership with tournament owners.

“He creates this feeling that the LPGA and the tournaments are in a joint effort, that it isn’t 'us' and 'them,' but it’s a team,” said Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, the LPGA president. “That whole change in atmosphere and thinking has really grown the parties together.”

Whan believes his stars know how to sell even better than he does.

“I always felt like the media and others thought we were more shaky than we were because I knew we had a good product,” Whan said. “You can’t sell a bad product, and you can’t fix a bad product. The bottom line is these ladies get it. They are the best sales engine in this business.

“You can’t say quality and momentum aren’t continuing this year, and nobody can take credit for that but the players. My staff and I have been smart enough to get out of their way and let them do what they do so well. We turn what they do into more business, but they are the best sales engine in this business.”

Former LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem is a big fan of Whan’s work ethic.

“Mike’s doing an extraordinary job, and he’s doing it the old-fashioned way,” Mechem said. “He’s just working at it. It’s the only way to do it.”

Whan will tell you the tour’s growing schedule will continue to be pinned to his stars.

Stacy Lewis’ rise in 2012  as the LPGA’s Player of the Year helped the tour move back into the Dallas area with the new North Texas LPGA Shootout this year. She’s a Texan and proud of it. She had an endorsement deal with Pure Silk, which helped pave the way to that company becoming title sponsor of the new event in the Bahamas this year.

The LPGA is in Taiwan because of Yani Tseng’s popularity and in China because of Shanshan Feng’s breakthrough last year. The tour’s still in Mexico because of Lorena Ochoa. It’s in South Korea and Japan because of all the stars that have come out of those countries.

Still, Whan’s skill as a facilitator can’t be underestimated. He’s rebuilding trust that the LPGA is a good partner.

“Three years ago, we were a tour of individual tournaments that were, maybe not scraping, but working very hard in a tough economy to stay afloat,” said Gail Graham, president of the Tournament Owners Association. “Now, it feels more like we’re part of the team, part of the association. That’s really buoyed the confidence of tournaments.”

The rebuilt trust is taking the LPGA closer to Whan’s goals.

Whan wants 30 to 32 LPGA events. He believes that’s a solid, optimum schedule.

“I’m trying to build schedules that match the way top players play anyway,” Whan said. “They play three weeks, then take a week off, or they play four weeks, then take a week off. Typically, they take a week off after a major, and they take a week off after playing Asia. If I build a schedule built around the way they want to play anyway, I get fresher players. I get happier sponsors. I get better TV. So, it’s selfish, but at the same time, it’s selfish for everybody. Everybody wins in terms of better fields, better TV, better value for my business partners.”

Whan’s work won’t be done when he does reach 30 events.

“After we get to 30-32, my focus will shift to growing purses and growing TV coverage, to make sure our 32 events are even more impactful and important, rather than just to keep adding weeks to the schedule,” Whan said.

The 2013 schedule will feature more than 300 hours of television coverage.

“We will have more days of coverage, more hours of coverage and more live coverage than we’ve ever seen,” Whan said.

Someday, that might get Whan his own Wikipedia page.

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”