Eight years after taking the helm as LPGA commissioner, Mike Whan has driven the number of tour events from 23 to 35. He launched the 2017 season with a record $67 million in official prize money and finds the tour enjoying six consecutive years of television viewership growth. The former Procter & Gamble brand manager and TaylorMade-Adidas Golf executive vice president helped bring golf to the Rio Olympics last year and has developed programming that’s grown the annual number of junior girls introduced to the game tenfold during his tenure. He was recently named chairman of the World Golf Foundation for 2017. On National Golf Day, he discusses the state of the women’s game.
Tell us about your new role chairing the World Golf Foundation.
The World Golf Foundation is made up of board members of the largest stakeholders in the game. The PGA Tour, the LPGA Tour, the European Tour, the R&A, the USGA, PGA America, etc. We focus on three major things: [growing] the game initiatives we all need, the World Golf Hall of Fame and how to best position golf by understanding where the game stands on a global basis.
The WGF is one of the reasons golf at the Olympics was such a realistic vision because that group was already getting together and made a bid to enter the Olympics for Rio 2016. If you jump back eight or nine years ago, that was a bold step. I’m flattered by the chair position, but the truth of the matter is it’s a rotating position. We all take turns leading.
How has the LPGA Tour evolved during your tenure?
When I started in 2010, North America was frozen in a deep recession. It was tough. Now, I’m enjoying problems I never thought I’d have like schedule congestion, too many events that want the same time, rising purses and challenges with our global TV agreements in terms of how to keep everybody happy. We’re playing 35 times; 170 countries are watching; and our purses are 70 percent higher.