Mike Whan wasn’t yet LPGA commissioner when he met Louise Suggs for the first time in a hotel lobby in Houston. Michelle Wie happened to walk by, and Suggs proudly noted that the $220,000 check Wie had earned for winning the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational was more than she’d earned in her entire Hall of Fame career.
“Your only real job,” Suggs told Whan, “is to leave it better for her daughter and her daughter’s daughter.”
Later at the hotel bar, Whan wrote down the words “celebration of the founders” on a napkin and put it in his briefcase. It wasn’t lost on Whan that he might be the last LPGA commissioner to have the great fortune of spending quality time with the founders.
What happens when future commissioners never get the chance to meet any of the women who started the LPGA 70 years ago? How easy it would be, he thought, to forget that personal philosophy.
And so Whan created the Founders Cup, which on Tuesday received a massive upgrade when the LPGA announced Cognizant as the new title sponsor, doubling the event’s purse to $3 million. It’s now the largest purse on tour outside of the majors and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
Cognizant’s commitment to keep the Founders Cup not only alive but thriving as Whan prepares to step down strikes a deeply personal chord for the commissioner.
But that’s really only half the story. The look of the press release alone – the name Cognizant flanked by the logos of both the PGA Tour and LPGA – sends a signal that would make any founder smile.
Cognizant announced its arrival in the golf space by partnering with both the LPGA and PGA Tour at the same time. The U.S.-based company joins Rolex and City as Global Partners for the Presidents Cup through 2026.
Just as Aon provides an identical year-long race for both tours with identical $1 million payouts, Cognizant provides a blueprint that other Fortune 500 companies should follow. As a leading professional-services company that supports equal opportunity and diversity in and out of the workplace, Cognizant put its core values into action.
“The world is full of platitudes,” said Gaurav Chand, Cognizant’s Chief Marketing Officer. “We wanted to put our money where our mouth was.”
In looking to extend its global reach, Cognizant didn’t just enter the women’s golf space – the U.S.-based company raised the bar.
Terry Duffy, Chairman and CEO of CME Group, is one of the LPGA’s game-changers. The kind of partner who sometimes comes in with a vision that’s bigger than the tour’s. It was Duffy who doubled the CME purse to $5 million in 2019 and raised the winner’s check to a record $1.5 million. Duffy hoped to push other companies to start thinking the same way.
“I actually think if you’re going to sponsor the PGA,” Duffy told Golfweek last December, “you should figure out a way to bifurcate.”
Even if a company didn’t want to title sponsor an LPGA event, for example, adding presenting sponsors creates another opportunity to narrow the money gap between genders.
Whan created the Founders Cup in 2011 with a mock purse – in other words, players didn’t get paid. All the money went to charity. Not everyone appreciated the idea. Comments, he once said, ranged from: “You just tell me when and where and I’ll be there” to “Have you slipped and fallen?”
Karrie Webb won the inaugural event, and there were three founders on hand that week: Shirley Spork, Marilynn Smith and Suggs.
Hall of Famer Pat Bradley came to Phoenix that first year for an exhibition match and told Spork that it was because of her that she became a golf pro. She’d attended one of Spork’s clinics while in college and was encouraged by her talk of the tour.
“That’s the reward I get,” said Spork, “the thank yous.”
The challenge of creating the tour, the warm reception founders receive from current players on the 18th, the commitment to the game’s future – these are all elements that drew Chand into the Founders story. Much of his excitement also traces back to the joy his 10-year-old daughter Kaia has found in the game.
Chand hopes other companies take note of Cognizant’s unique entry into golf.
“Across the board I’d love to see a measured balance between investment in all sports,” he said. “Again, we’re talking about world-class athletes, people at the pinnacle of the game, giving them a platform and thereby encouraging the next generation to get into sport. To get into sport with these kind of values is really critical to us.”
Whan now hands the Founders Cup baton to a company that ultimately might have a bigger vision for the event than he dared to dream.
May it always be so.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/02/09/embargo-opinion-cognizants-strong-commitment-to-pga-tour-and-lpga-is-a-model-for-fortune-500-companies/