Mike Whan, commissioner of the LPGA, is the man of the moment, a mover and shaker who’s managing to position women’s golf slap-bang in the middle of the game’s development. That’s a trick that should qualify the 54-year old American for membership of the Magic Circle but, in the meantime, the Golf Writers’ Association of America (GWAA) has given him the 2020 William D. Richardson Award for outstanding contributions to golf.
Whan joins a long list of luminaries to win the award, including Bob Jones, Bob Hope, Arnold Palmer and LPGA founders Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg and Louise Suggs. He was suitably humbled and stressed that he was no lone wolf: “The LPGA is the ultimate team effort, so I hope all the players, teachers and staff understand that this award is really recognising ALL of us. I’m honoured to be a small part of this incredible LPGA family and I’m proud of all that we are doing to leave the game even better for the next generation of golfers.”Whan is due at The Buckinghamshire Golf Club, the headquarters of the LET, today, to announce the LET’s 2020 schedule, alongside Alexandra Armas, who’s been confirmed as CEO of the LET. She will report directly to the LPGA-LET Joint Venture Board of Directors, chaired by Whan. Ladies European Golf Venture Limited, the company that now operates the LET, has a board of 12 directors, including Whan, Keith Pelley, who is the European Tour’s chief executive, Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive and Marta Figueras Dotti, chair of the LET. Still with me?
It’s certainly a powerful line-up and should mean that at long last, after years of limping along, women’s professional golf in Europe has a sustainable future. Fingers crossed.
Mike Whan has been in his job for 10 years, a miracle of longevity in a position often seen as a poisoned chalice but no matter how good the boss is, how inspirational and persuasive, how hard he or she works, in the end it all comes down to the players; their attitude and performance are key. Charlie Mechem, one of Whan’s most distinguished predecessors, had no doubt about that.
In his entertaining book with the tongue-in-cheek title, ‘Who’s That With Charlie?’, he wrote: “In the final analysis, the players are the tour. No matter how strong and supportive the sponsors are or the media or the fans, the players drive the success or failure of the organisation. And that’s as it should be.”
I’ve always thought that every tour deserves a leader like Charlie Mechem at least once in its existence. He was – and hopefully still is – charming, shrewd, unbelievably well connected and a wonderful speaker, never hitting a bum note. At Dalmahoy, when Europe won the Solheim Cup against all the odds, he couldn’t have been more gracious, well aware that the result was the best thing that could have happened to the contest. His golfing nous and diplomacy also helped compensate for the fact that his European counterpart at the time, a non-golfer, hadn’t a clue what was going on……The tour’s finest hour went completely over her head.
Of course, I’ve got stuck into Charlie’s book again and there’s a lovely story about Louise Suggs, who was a formidable, forthright character but great fun once you got to know her. Back in the dim, distant past, when Louise was in her heyday, she played in a one-day tournament at a par-3 course in the Palm Beach area and won. The field was made up of male and female pros and Sam Snead let Louise know in no uncertain terms that he was not at all happy at being beaten by the woman Bob Hope had nicknamed “Little Miss Sluggs”.
Snead, who loathed losing, complained about the condition of the course, the set up and anything else he could think of but Louise was no shrinking violet and gave him short shrift. “Sam,” she said. “Shut up. You’ve no bitching rights, you didn’t even come second!”
Sam stormed off and roared out of the car park leaving Louise to inhale the smell of burning rubber – and the sweeter smell of success. There’s nothing quite like beating a man when he’s really, really trying……Where are you when I need you Dai?
The LPGA is 70 this year, so there’ll be lots of looking back to the early days as well as looking forward and there are some great tales to tell about Fred Corcoran, the LPGA’s first tournament director – commissioner really – who was a promoter, manager, deal-maker and storyteller par excellence and helped set the tour on its way. He persuaded Alvin Handmacher, a fashion magnate, to use golf to promote his Weathervane line of women’s clothing. It was a crucial sponsorship coup and in her book ‘Fred Corcoran: The Man Who Sold The World on Golf’, Corcoran’s daughter Judy said…..”make no mistake about it – Alvin put the Ladies’ PGA in business.”
Years earlier, in a book called ‘Unplayable Lies’, Corcoran had written: “Alvin understood me and I understood him. Neither of us wholly understood the girls….”
It was ever thus. Could be that we’re just wired differently!