Oct
28
2009
Meet New LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan, the Anti-Bivens
By Stephanie Wei under General

This morning I rushed over to Madison Square Garden for the LPGA press conference, where they formally introduced the new commissioner, Michael Whan, whom nobody appeared to know anything about when the story broke[*UPDATE] last night.

The Tour wasn’t very happy that the story was leaked — it didn’t come from a member of the board or an LPGA official — they didn’t tell ANYONE. Apparently, the players received the press release via email and to the LPGA’s disappointment, someone passed it along to Golfweek’s Beth Ann Baldry.

Back to the presser! I was pleasantly welcomed by Heather Daly-Donofrio, the player liaison to the board of directors (and my former assistant golf coach at Yale). As I was pouring a cup of coffee, I ran into friendly LPGA chief of communications, David Higdon, who I met at the Chelsea Piers outing. He jokingly said, “Hi, Stephanie! Are you sick of me yet?” Never! But someone was sick of him.

Golf World’s Sirak, who was clearly agitated, confronted Higdon while I was standing there and… just chewed him out. Violence! It went something like this: “You cost me seven f$%^&*g hours yesterday. Why didn’t you return my phone calls? […] If I knew more than you did yesterday, I don’t believe that. You could have called me to tell me you didn’t know anything.” Higdon seemed bewildered, yet remained very calm and tried to rationalize with Sirak, explaining the decision wasn’t confirmed until 9PM and they had to wait for the board’s final vote and then notify the players. Sirak still didn’t seem convinced. (To be fair, Sirak was extremely nice when I talked to him after the presser and I think he was just frustrated.)

Moving on. Higdon kicked off the presser with enthusiastic introductions of the principals in attendance — Leslie Greis, the chair of the Search Committee, Dawn Hudson, chairman of the LPGA board of directors, Michael Whan, the “man in the middle,” Helen Alfredsson, LPGA superstar and member of the player board of directors, and Michelle Ellis, the president of the player board.

Hudson, who was all business, started her spiel, which was interrupted by the annoying sound of the phone ringing. Lots of phones ringing. Anyway, she opened with encouraging adjectives about the state of the LPGA. Remember these? Like “fantastic,” “resurgent” and “resilient.” Then a phone rang again. She passed the mic to Greis, who described the search as a “daunting task,” but it was “thorough and meticulous.” And, apparently, there was “an incredible amount of interest in the position.” (A phone rings for third time. Really.)

She outlined the criteria the Search Committee looked for:

Let me remind you of the ideal experience we looked for: first, substantial business leadership experience in a golf or sports company; second, a proven track record of building brands on a global scale; third, demonstrate ability to build consensus across borders in a high-profile environment; and finally, a passion for and understanding for golf and relationships in the golf industry. Mike Whan meets all of those criteria. But that’s not all. Think of the intangibles. He grew up on the golf course, around the golf business, his energetic personality, he can talk the talk whether it’s in the boardroom or on the golf course. They all add up. Mike Whan is the perfect fit for this organization…

Hudson then stepped up to convince everyone Whan was the right man for the job:

The head and the heart of Mike Whan. He’s certainly got the business savvy to function in the challenging role of the commissioner. He’s worked in the sports industry, specifically the golf industry. He’s been a CEO. He listens first before he talks. He’s smart. He knows how to bargain. He understands the complexity of reaching out to all of our constituents. Equally important is his heart, which is really what set him apart from the other candidates. He loves golf and loves giving back. He appreciates women’s golf and isn’t daunted by the challenges we face. But rather, he sees the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead for the LPGA. He’s a dynamic leader. His eyes light up when you talk to him about the LPGA — past, present or future.

And then…the man himself:

I really look to three things when I think about the future and that’s people, that’s opportunity and that’s passion…When it comes to people, this search proved to me that this LPGA organization is surrounded by passion…it’s really overwhelming. On the second is opportunity, I’ve never been one who’s looked at words like “issues, problems or challenges” as bad words. What they represent is tremendous upside for potential…I was that crazy HS kid cutting greens at 5:30 in the morning so he could play free golf in the afternoon and caddie on Sundays…I really enjoy the game for not only the sport, but for the life lessons it’s taught me and I’m seeing it teach my kids every day…my first few months in the position are going to be with pretty large ears and pretty small mouth because I’ve got more to learn than I’ve got to offer. I can’t wait to jump in…I don’t take this job lightly. I took this as a personal passion, a calling more than a position. I won’t let the LPGA players, tournament directors and staff down.

Next up. Marty Evans, the acting commissioner, is in South Korea for the LPGA event this week, but dialed in to impart her thoughts about the exciting news. She mentioned the players are “very, very happy” and Whan has “all the key ingredients [for a commissioner].” Evans will remain the acting commissioner until Mike officially takes over on January 4, 2010.

Also? Mike Whan is not Asian. At all. His father is of Scottish descent. Their surname was previously “MacWhan,” but the “Mac” was dropped at some point unbeknownst to him. So no feature story on him. Instead, the LPGA actually let me talk to him — see next post.

[*Correction: The wire service gave Golf World/Golf Digest’s Ron Sirak credit for breaking the story and Golfweek was credited for the Twitter notice.]

[Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images]