Will Whan work more wonders?
New golf administrator stories aren’t usually exciting to write about, but Mike Whan’s appointment as chief executive of the United States Golf Association is a worthwhile story. It might be the most significant appointment in the game’s most recent history.
Question is, will he work the same wonders for the governing body of America and Mexico as he’s done for the LPGA and the Ladies European Tour?
Bet many of the game’s women professionals think so.
Whan, pictured above with LET head Alex Armas, stepped down from his role as LPGA Commissioner last month, and now strolls into arguably the biggest position in golf. He takes over the USGA at a crucial time in the game’s evolution. Along with R&A boss Martin Slumbers, Whan is going to have to guide the game through the choppy waters of the distance debate.
He certainly has the charisma to turn those heads who want to let technology run riot. Whether he has the diplomacy to handle the blue bloods within the USGA is another matter.
It’s difficult not to like the 55-year-old, who spent 11 years running the best women’s tour. He has a gregariousness not often associated with golf administrators.
Talking to the head of a tour or a governing body is sometimes like entering a labyrinth of unconnected words and phrases with no daylight at the end of the tunnel. Often journalists have been known to come out of a press conference with a chief executive and ask a very pertinent question: “What the hell did he just say?”
I met Whan for the first time last year when the LPGA and the Ladies European Tour merged. Whan was open, approachable and actually talked in full sentences that made sense. He had no problem speaking to me on my own after the main press conference at LET headquarters at the Buckinghamshire Golf Club. He didn’t duck any of my questions and, more importantly, didn’t waffle.
Aside from his resolute refusal to give Sophia Popov the five-year exemption she rightly deserved after her AIG Women’s Open victory last year (see alistairtaitgolf.com passim), Whan hasn’t put a foot wrong in his LPGA tenure. He's improved the tour immeasurably. To be fair, he recognised the unfairness of the Popov situation and took steps to ensure no player suffers the same fate in future. Moreover, his foresight to take over the moribund LET has proved a godsend for European women’s golf, as the recent announcement of a record-breaking 2021 LET schedule shows.
As England’s Felicity Johnson recently told Global Golf Post:
“Anyone looking in from the outside will see what a difference Mike has made in such a short space of time.”
Scotland’s Carlie Booth spoke for most LET professionals when she added:
“All we need now is another Mike Whan.”
Maybe the LPGA and LET’s loss is golf’s gain. Whan is surely keen to join R&A boss Martin Slumbers’s campaign to try to get more women, girls and families into golf?
Slumbers and Whan might just make a formidable team given they both hail from outside the organisations they now lead. Slumbers wasn’t an R&A member when he took over from Peter Dawson in 2014, a move that surprised many in the game, me included. Dawson made an important move in taking the governing body from a fairly staid, old-fashioned members' club and giving it a commercial wing that has helped raise the profile of the Open Championship. He was also instrumental in helping golf return to the Olympics. Slumbers has helped move the game on commercially in his tenure
While there will still be the usual gripes about how the two governing bodies administer the game – yes, occasionally from me too – even the most diehard cynic has to concede that having two people in charge of both the world’s governing bodies from outside the tight inner circles of those organisations has to be a move in the right direction.
#JustSaying: “I doubt if we in America will ever be able to extract so much pleasure from it. Our dispositions, our temperaments, are not golf-like; we hurry through life at too rapid a gait; we have not the time to give golf in order to gain that responsive charm the game holds for the leisurely suitor.” C.W. Whitney, 1894
Photograph courtesy of the LET