LPGA Commissoner Mike Whan announced that he will retire as LPGA Commissioner in 2021.
Considering the condition in which Whan found the LPGA in 2010, he must be considered one of the best commissioners to have guided any sport. In 2010, the LPGA was on life support, having regressed to just 24 events and $41 million in prize money. Then-Commissioner Carolyn Bievens had a full scale player insurrection on her hands. The LPGA was in immediate danger of dissolution.
Whan turned that around. Under his leadership, the 2021 season will have 34 events, with more than $76 million in prize money. Viewership is up by double digits.
While that pales beside the PGA TOUR, the LPGA is fighting an uphill battle against a culture that habitually devalues women’s sports.
Perhaps because of that, the LPGA has repositioned itself as a global tour. Events are scheduled in 2021 in China, Singapore, Thailand, China, Japan, South Korea and Taipei. Of the 34 tournaments, twelve have internatonal sponsors, mostly in Asia.
By way of comparison, the PGA TOUR’s International Events are confined to Mexico and Canada.
My sense is that the women’s game is much more respected in Asia. Certainly, it seems to be an obsession in South Korea.
That, however, has brought other difficulties here at home. If I had a dime for every time I heard a person criticize the LPGA for not having enough “American Winners,” I’d be a wealthy man. The prejudice against Asians seems to be as strong as the prejudice against women athletes.
Infuriatingly, I have heard the “not an American” charge leveled against Danielle Kang, who was born in San Francisco.
I have been to several LPGA tournaments: The Marathon in Toledo, The Volvik in Ann Arbor and the Meijer in Grand Rapids. Every LPGA event I have attended has been engaging and friendly. Whan’s message to his players has been to “Act Like A Founder,” that group of thirteen pioneering and brave women who created the LPGA. That has meant to not only play golf, but also to be an evangelist.
I met Whan at the Volvik in Ann Arbor. He didn’t know me from Adam, but was gracious nonetheless.
Whan’s talents surely were tested in the 2020 COVID season. In my mind, Whan’s leadership this past year was particularly remarkable. The tour had a relatively busy schedule and somehow managed to keep every 2020 sponsor for 2021.
I think he will be missed.
Whan’s farewell note follows
Dear LPGA Family,
I hope this note finds you rested after a nice, long holiday break.
I’m sorry to jump-start your 2021 with a surprising note from me, but I wanted you to know that I have notified our Board of Directors that I’ve made the difficult decision to transition out of the LPGA in 2021. I know that news may come as a bit of a shock, but trust me when I say it follows many, many months of deep introspection.
When I first joined the LPGA, I told the Board it would be a 4-year term, giving me time to help the organization achieve its immediate goals. Now, as the longest-serving LPGA Commissioner, I look back on these 11 years with enormous pride and satisfaction at what we’ve accomplished together, to provide opportunities for women to achieve their dreams in golf.
You may be wondering why I’ve made the decision to step down – and why now? In many ways, this past year – with all the pandemic challenges – was also the LPGA’s most triumphant. We are entering 2021 on a wave of momentum — a strong schedule with record purses, new events/sponsors, double-digit viewership growth, and a talented team that demonstrated exceptional skill, resilience and capability to lead through challenging times.
I simply wouldn’t leave the LPGA if I thought the future was uncertain or not trending straight up. In fact, even after the challenges we faced in 2020, the LPGA has NEVER been more financially secure, deeper in leadership talent, or more anchored by passionate, diverse sponsors from all around the world. The LPGA is poised for even greater heights; and as such, I’m excited to hand the baton to the next leader and become their biggest supporter.
One of the hardest jobs of a leader is to know when their work is done. If the covid-19 pandemic taught me anything, it was that the LPGA executive staff has full control of our business and is capable of incredible things. We have leaders who are visionary, compassionate, collaborative and humble. You may not agree with every decision they make, but they have led our Association to new heights virtually every year.
You all know I love this place and what we stand for.That won’t change!! I love our athletes, our teachers, our amateurs, our staff, and our incredible sponsors that have driven this decade of unprecedented growth.
I’m honored that you allowed me to lead us, speak for us, and build the most talented staff and strongest tour in LPGA history. And, while the role of Commissioner is to be the voice of our Association, you – our members and staff – are the LPGA’s heart and soul (and always will be).
I’m not leaving tomorrow, as I want to be sure that our Board of Directors has plenty of time to pursue a comprehensive process for identifying and on-boarding the next LPGA Commissioner. The Board will likely share their thoughts on a full search process (both internal candidates and those that will certainly emerge from outside the organization) in the coming weeks.
There are many people I’ll need to thank as I transition out of the LPGA – but I wanted you to know that YOU are the reason I came to work every day. YOU drove me to be better and push for more. I’m a people-person (you all know that), and the LPGA surrounded me with the best people I’ve ever known. Most importantly, we’re a family – one in which I will always consider myself a part of.
I wanted you to hear this news from me (directly), because I consider each of you my friend. We’ll have the opportunity for a proper farewell when the time comes. Until then, please know that you have touched my heart and become friends and teammates I will cherish for a lifetime!
Never stop Acting Like Founders!!