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The Only Way Is Up

November 02, 2009

Now that the LPGA has appointed its new leader and the 2009 season is coming to a close, it's time for the world's oldest professional women's sports organization to start looking on the bright side. Because no matter what the new commish, Michael Whan, has in store for the LPGA, next year can't possibly be as much of a downer as this one was.Â

There's been plenty of talk about "the 2009 season that could've been" on the PGA Tour, what with Kenny Perry, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods narrowly losing major championships to guys with last names such as Glover, Cabrera and Yang. Still, the men's tour doesn't hold a candle to the LPGA when it comes to opportunities lost in the Year of the Ox. Imagine if Cristie Kerr had been the one to eagle the 72nd hole at Mission Hills Country Club to take home the Kraft Nabisco back in April, or if she hadn't imploded during the final round of the U.S. Women's Open. And just think, if only Christina Kim or Paula Creamer had been able to pull it out in the final round of the Ricoh Women's British Open. Celebrations could have gone on for weeks. Instead, we were left with lackluster headlines and a general sense of doom as the players ganged up on the strict headmistress (then-commissioner Carolyn Bivens), the tour's biggest star (Lorena Ochoa) fell into a five-month slump, tournament sponsors bailed and a few rogue members (blasphemy!) went so far as to strip for a national magazine. Michelle Wie's success at the Solheim Cup was a rare bright spot amid all the drama, but a couple of tournament wins from the famous Hawaiian would've been even better. As much as Rolex Rookie of the Year (and likely Player of the Year) Jiyai Shin deserves all the respect in the world for her stellar play this season, she doesn't move the needle enough from a PR perspective.

But if the last three months are any indication, perhaps the LPGA Tour isn't doomed to fail after all. Thanks to some stellar work on the part of acting commissioner Marty Evans, embattled tournaments such as the Jamie Farr Owen's Corning Classic and the Wegman's LPGA, who had previously all but thrown in the flag, have signed back up for 2010 -- albeit with smaller purses. (As most of us have become accustomed saying in these tough economic times, "it's better than nothing.") And if the little-known Whan lives up to his resumé (he went from brand assistant to director of marketing in six years at Procter & Gamble right out of college, and in his four-year stint at TaylorMade-adidas Golf in the late '90s, he quickly rose from VP of marketing to general manager, North America), the tour should be in very good hands over the next few years. I've never met the man, but he's obviously a smart guy and a great marketer. Looking at his CV, Whan has achieved a lot more in his 44 years on this planet than most people are lucky to do in twice that time. He even found a few moments last year to pen a mystery novel called 39 Days: Based on a True Story of Brutal Murder, Calculated Revenge, and Questionable Justice.  Â


Alright, so a mystery novel doesn't exactly say much about how Whan is going to save the LPGA, but it shows that he has some personality. Mix that with a keen business sense and a love for golf (he's played since childhood: "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 caddie on Sundays," he said in his press conference last week), and the LPGA might have something here. One thing is for sure: after 2009, the only way for Whan -- and the LPGA -- to go is up.Â

--Stina Sternberg