By Nancy Berkley
The second half of the Interview I conducted with LPGA Commissioner, Mike Whan, on August 12th, 2015 in his office at LPGA headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Read PART I (Strategy and Leadership) of the Interview.
part II -- About the Future
Q. You like the International Crown because it has as you call it “meaning”. Does that apply to other tournaments. Would you explain that a little more?
A. The tournaments on our schedule have meaning. The Founders Cup – honors the LPGA Founders; the Titleholders honors golfers who have won tournaments and actually was an annual LPGA tournament years ago, and our new KPMG PGA Championship offers a women’s leadership conference. The world isn’t waiting for the next 72 holes event — just any kind of women’s tournament. I couldn’t market that!
Q. What about the LPGA Teaching and Club Professionals – the T&CP division of the LPGA. How does that fit into the LPGA brand and meaning? Doesn’t that threaten to take you “out-of-bounds” strategically?
A. No, not at all. We have always had golfers come from other countries to the U.S. to become LPGA certified. But that was really asking a lot. They had to fly here, live here, study here – all at their own expense. And we had calls from golfers in other countries asking us if there was an LPGA instructor in their country. I realized that the LPGA T&CP program was the gold standard of golf instruction – a valuable brand in itself. And I thought, “Shame on us.” If we want more girls playing golf, we need more LPGA role-model teachers. Nancy Henderson, LPGA Chief Teaching Officer, picked up the ball. We now have an LPGA Instructor program in Korea – materials have all been translated to Korean. Next is Japan and then China.
Q. What do you call that: It’s not collaboration or consolidation. It’s….
A. It’s “expansion.” We have done that with our tour schedule, our sponsors, our prize money and our T&CP program. And we are doing it now in Girls Golf. In fact the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program may be the best part of what we are doing. Nancy Henderson, also President of the LPGA Foundation, which oversees our LPGA Girls Golf wanted to offer a leadership program for girls ages 14-17. She thought it was time to connect golf with leadership skills. As usual, I worried that we were “out of bounds” and getting away from what we do best – LPGA Tours.
I needed to learn more about teaching leadership from women leaders. A significant conversation with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, changed my mind. She said that nothing she learned about leadership came in a classroom, and her advice was that if you want to learn to lead, young people have to learn to work together. I realized that our girls golf program was the leadership environment that Nancy Henderson had been proposing. And, our first LPGA Leadership Academy was held this past July. Now we will move forward on building a girls’ leadership program under the LPGA Girls Golf umbrella. It was one of those great examples where the first time I said “no,” I was smart enough to listen to others.
FIVE QUICK QUESTIONS
Q. I’m going to make the next few questions really easy. All I am asking for is a “yes” or “no” answer. Here we go:
1. Yes or No? Are you thinking about a men’s and women’s team competition?
“Yes. I’ve talked with Tim Finchem, Commissioner of the PGA Tour, about a combined PGA Tour event. We would like to do it, but both of our Tour schedules are so busy that it is very hard to schedule. But I think we will get there.”
2. Yes or No? Are you closer to having a women’s LPGA Tour event at Augusta?
3. Yes or No? Are you considering more match play events on the LPGA Tour schedule – in addition to the International Crown and the Solheim Cup?
“Yes. I would like to see an individual match-play event on the regular schedule.”
4. Yes or No? Are you thinking about an LPGA “membership” concept open to all recreational golfers similar to the USGA’s membership?
“Yes. I would love to be able to send out news or polls to hundreds of thousands of LPGA fans and followers. But I haven’t allocated the resources for the program yet.”
5. Yes or No? Are there more TV viewers and fans for LPGA Tour events?
“Yes. Our TV coverage has gone from 170 hours to 400 hours per season. We can be seen on TV twice as much as we used to be. Network TV is the next big frontier for the LPGA. But it’s a long way off.
Q. Last question – it’s my “blank-check” question. Someone offers to give you a blank check in any amount for you to use for the LPGA. How would you use it?
A. [pause – but not too long] I would buy a long-term network TV deal where we played every weekend on network TV. That’s expensive – $250,000 an hour – I need a big blank check!. But, what I hear is that when we are on network TV, we don’t have great ratings and that’s why they don’t give us the time. But, that’s a chicken-and-egg deal. I think if we played 30 times a year on network TV, we would have those good ratings.
Right now, I think LPGA golf is a little bit like sand-volley-ball; we just show up one Saturday every now and then. I don’t want our LPGA Tour to be a “niche” sport. My big TV partner is the Golf Channel. But my goal is to be on network at least once a month. And I know I have to earn it. It’s my patience problem: I can be patient growing girls golf, patient to slowly build a schedule. But it’s hard for me to be patient showing the world how good women’s golf is because it’s so good now.
Q. Here’s the very, very last question: How will you handle watching the 2015 Solheim Cup in Germany in a few weeks? LPGA Tour players will be on both Team USA and Team Europe.
A. I want to be neutral. So I don’t wear Team Europe or Team USA colors. I will be neutral wearing something black, white or gray on Friday and Saturday. But, by Sunday, the spirit and meaning of the competition gets to me personally as an American, and I bring out my red, white and blue. I just can’t help rooting for Team USA that last day. I think the LPGA players appreciate and understand both my support and my national pride.
Thanks again, Mike, for your time today and for your honesty and candor. It’s always a pleasure to talk with you about the LPGA. I’ll see you at the Solheim Cup in my red, white and blue cheering for Team USA.
Nancy Berkley is an expert on women’s golf and junior-girls golf in the U.S. A special interest of hers is encouraging business women to enjoy golf with colleagues and clients. Nancy is a member of the World Golf Foundation Women’s Committee, and a member of the National Golf Foundation. Nancy is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University, Rutgers Law School and has a degree from the Professional Management Program of Harvard Business School.