On the eve of a new season, starting overseas in Thailand, new LPGA commissioner Michael Whan sat down for a Q&A with Larry Dorman of the New York Times. Your highlights, lowlights and Miller Lites:
You are opening the season in Thailand this week and then going to Singapore.
Doesn’t it hurt the opener to not have it on live TV in the United States?
I think the L.P.G.A. is showcasing its
brand worldwide. We put the show on the road,
and we do it often enough that you can wake up one day and 7 of your top 10
players in the world can come from different countries, from outside the U.S.
That’s a testament to what the L.P.G.A. has become. Fifteen years ago, people
wondered if the L.P.G.A. could be any bigger or better because it was really
limited to the U.S. and Europe. Nobody asks that question today.
The difficulties of attracting corporate sponsors in the current economic
climate are well known, and yet one of your top priorities has to be to find
sponsors to fill some of the holes on the schedule.
It is the No. 1 priority. I wouldn’t even call it one of, it is the. There
certainly are other things to do, but No. 1 is about getting us playing a lot
more often, a lot more places and on TV. Nobody got to avoid what happened to
the business community in 2008 and 2009, and certainly businesses that were
downsizing and challenging the sports marketing plan, nobody was immune to that
— certainly not the L.P.G.A., either.
You inherited the 10-year relationship with the Golf Channel. What are your
thoughts on it?
A. It gives our tour a home, a consistent location for our
fans to find us. One of the criticisms we heard was that we were just kind of
all over the place and it was difficult to find us… Their 10-year deal looks great if we really grow
this thing over the next five years, and it doesn’t look so great if we don’t.
I talk to the Golf Channel once a day, and it’s always on the same topics — how
can we help the fans get to meet these personalities on the
tour? Anybody who follows the L.P.G.A., and even those who don’t regularly, the
one thing they all agree on is that the personalities on the L.P.G.A. are
second to none — exciting young women who are having fun on the golf course.
They’re fun to look at, fun to watch and they perform at a freakishly high
level. Our job is to make sure that more people not only get to see them, but
also get to know them.
This is not your father’s L.P.G.A. is it?
I tell people all the time that the Solheim Cup was the No. 1 reason why I
became the commissioner, at least on my side. I mean, I’ve never had so much
fun viewing golf that I can remember in a long time. I had my 12-year-old son next
to me, and we were visiting my parents and we had three generations of Whans
sitting together on the couch high-fiving and laughing.