Eyes Wide Open
New LPGA commissioner Michael Whan appears to be heading into the job with the right philosophy in mind
NEW YORK -- When the phone rang, it was not so much an omen as it was a Monty Pythonesque bit of absurdist theater summing up the kind of year it's been for the LPGA, if not the entire four-year reign of Carolyn Bivens. Just as LPGA board of directors chair Dawn Hudson was about to say the next commissioner would be Michael Whan, the phone in front of her buzzed to life like an angry bee. "Is someone calling in?" Hudson asked. Perhaps it was Bivens.
Certainly, the ousted commissioner was very much present in the not-so-carefully couched words used in Wednesday's news conference at Madison Square Garden introducing Whan as the eighth person to lead the world's most successful professional sports organization for women. Hudson said it was a day to celebrate "the progress the organization has made over the last several months." She used words like "resilient" and "resurging" and said the tour was "back on track and ready to usher in a new era behind a proven leader in sports and golf."
Leslie Greis, chair of the search committee that included independent director Bill Morton and player directors Juli Inkster and Helen Alfredsson, continued the comeback theme. She said the four attributes sought in the new commissioner were experience in golf or sports, a record as a global brand builder, the ability to fashion a consensus and a passion for golf.
Ray Volpe (July 1975—March 1982)
John Laupheimer (April 1982—Nov. 1988)
Bill Blue (Dec. 1988—Sept. 1990)
Charile Mechem (Nov. 1990—Dec. 1995)
Jim Ritts (Jan. 1996—March 1999)
Ty Votaw (March 1999—Sept. 2005)
Carolyn Bivens (Sept. 2005—July 2009)
Marty Evans* (July 2009—Jan. 2010)
Michael Whan (Jan. 2010—)
"Mike Whan is a perfect fit for this organization," Greis said, not needing to add that Bivens had failed on at least three of those criteria. She said Rear Admiral Marty Evans, who has done an admirable job rescuing several endangered tournaments, would continue as acting commissioner until Whan takes over Jan. 4, 2010. Both Evans and Whan will be in Houston Nov. 18 when the 2010 schedule is unveiled on the eve of the Tour Championship, Greis said.
And when it came time for Whan to speak it was as if his words were scripted right from the search criteria drawn up by the headhunting firm Spencer Stuart, which organized the selection process. A call to central casting couldn't have produced a character actor closer to the attributes the tour had defined as important.
"Golf is special to me," Whan said. "It's been special to me my whole life. I was that crazy high school kid cutting greens at 5:30 in the morning so he could play free golf in the afternoon and caddying on Sundays, and I was the guy who decided to make golf a career move, as well, back in my early 30s and on through my career."
That career started at Procter & Gamble in 1987, went to Wilson Sporting Goods in 1994, TaylorMade Golf in 1996, Britesmile Inc. in 1999 and Mission Itech Hockey in 2002. Whan, 44, and his wife, Meg and children, Austin (15), Wesley (13), and Connor (12), live in California but will move near LPGA headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla.
"I have a personal philosophy about leadership that maybe not everybody understands, so I'll just say it this simply," Whan explained. "I believe in listen, learn and lead, and you do it in that order." He added: "I tend to believe my first few months in the position is going to be with pretty large ears and pretty small mouth." Veterans of the past few years may describe that as a fairly novel concept.