After this morning’s presser, I sat down to chat with new LPGA commissioner Mike Whan. He was personable, honest, and gung-ho about learning the ropes at the LPGA. Here’s our interview:
Do you see the potential to elevate women’s golf to a level of appeal and popularity that’s comparable to women’s tennis?
I won’t lie to you and say I’m an expert at women’s tennis. The basic building fundamentals for broad-scale excitement and growth of the LPGA are what brought me here. You’ve got players from around the world. You have fan bases being built across the world. You have superstars from all regions. You’ve got a long-term media partner. If you think of sports that have had burgeoning significant growth, they all start with those basic fundamentals and the LPGA is already a phenomenal entity. But in terms of upside potential, it just seems staggering.
What do you think is the biggest challenge you’ll be facing?
You might be able to answer that question better than me, to be honest with you. I hope there’s a lot of them. If you look at my background, I haven’t joined a lot of businesses that didn’t have challenges and issues and problems and at the same time, significant upside. I look at the LPGA and say, there are challenges and different voices on different topics. But the reason why there’s different voices is there’s a ton of emotion for this business. And the people that I’ve met just in this process even if you talk about topics that bother them, they speak about it passionately, they care. If you can harness that, you got something powerful. You talk about powerful brands that have become big, it starts with people and passion. So, I don’t know what the biggest challenges are going to be. I look forward to tackling whatever they are because I like my team.
What will your approach be to relating to the players?
First and foremost, I just want to listen to the players. The players that I’ve met on the LPGA Tour first and foremost want to be players. The time they have to spend away from playing is time away from their career. When the LPGA is moving forward and something they’re proud of and proud of our partnerships, it allows them to be golfers. So I think my goal with that is going to do everything I can so they can be proud of the LPGA and golf. They have to spend less time worrying about the business side of the LPGA. And I think that’s true. I’ll check that personally in the first 90-100 days, but of the players I’ve met, they’re proud of the business and the organization. But they want to be able to focus less on the LPGA and more on golf and I think that’s great and I’ll do all I can to help.
Do you want to be the type of commissioner that players can come to speak to if they have any questions or problems?
I won’t be hard to find. I understand there are multiple constituents of the LPGA. There are the tournament owners, the players, the teaching pros, the board members and I don’t think you want to fight that. I think you want to embrace that. I think the more people that feel like they’re part of growing this business, the better. It makes the ultimate team when you talk about a tour like the LPGA. I certainly don’t want to make this a one-man team. I don’t want to make this a few folks down at Daytona Beach making all the decisions. I enjoy the game, the players and the tournaments. I’ll do it anyway, but I think the job will require a team.
Coming into this job, do you think it’s the hardest professional sports league to manage at the moment?
I really don’t know the answer to that. I won’t say that I don’t know anything about the LPGA, but I know I have a lot to learn. But for me to sit back and talk about the LPGA as it relates to other sports is a good question to come back and ask me in six months.
[Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images]