Nancy Lopez stood in her kitchen and cried. It’s her birthday today, and between all the messages to celebrate her 64th year, there was an email from LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, asking her to give him a call when she woke up. The news that Whan planned to step down at some point in the 2021 season came as a surprise, if not a shock, to most LPGA players.
“I thought he might be with us for a little bit longer,” said Lopez, who genuinely had trouble sleeping at night because her concerns for the tour she loved were so great before Whan took over.
Juli Inkster didn’t see it coming, especially given that Whan signed a contract extension in late 2019. The Hall of Famer didn’t hold back her praise for what Whan has accomplished in his 11 years with the tour, the longest tenure of any LPGA commissioner.
“I think he saved the LPGA,” said Inkster. “It was in dire straits when he took over. The players, they lost their trust. No one really knew what was going on. It was all hearsay. And when Mike came in, he put that right to bed. He said, ‘Listen I’m going to be transparent; I’m going to be honest. You’ll always be the first to know.’ He stuck with that. He ran it like a business, but he also ran it with compassion. I think the LPGA was very close to folding, and he brought it back to life and now it’s thriving.”
With a sad heart we will be saying good bye to @LPGACommish Mike Whan! What a wonderful job he has done for the @LPGA tour! He put on a skirt and became one of us! He has opened many doors for the LPGA that were slowly closing years ago. Thank you Mike! You will be missed!
— NancyLopezWGHoF (@NancyLopezWGHo1) January 6, 2021
Morgan Pressel praised Whan’s creativity and ability to think outside the box as keys to his success. His team’s initiatives included the International Crown, the Founders Cup and the season-long Race to the CME Globe. Whoever replaces Whan, she said, needs to bring a relatively similar culture to the organization.
“I say that he was handed Roman ruins and really rebuilt it from the ground up,” said Pressel of a tour that had only 24 tournaments and official prize money of $41.4 million when Whan took over.”
Dame Laura Davies, who is stuck at home in England during a third lockdown, marvels at the job Whan did to not only put together a successful 2020 campaign during a global pandemic but create a ’21 schedule that’s ripe with opportunity and record-setting purses.
“I think it’s extraordinary how good the tour looks for this year and how he managed,” said Davies. “Seems to me like all the big decisions were the correct decisions.”
In that regard, veteran Angela Stanford says Whan actually saved the LPGA twice.
Whan hasn’t set a firm date for his departure and said he doesn’t have another job lined up.
“With the pandemic still going on and sports difficult to market, this a hard hit for the LPGA Tour,” said Hall of Famer Beth Daniel in a text. “He has been a very charismatic and energetic leader for in his 11 years as commissioner. He has developed some great relationships with sponsors and that will be hard to replace. He definitely has left us better than when he arrived.”
Inkster said Whan and former commissioner Charlie Meacham, who was also extremely popular among players, had two things in common that are of paramount importance.
“They’re honest, and there’s nothing phony about them,” said Inkster. “That’s what we need in a commissioner. It’s not always going to be a bed of roses and the players have to know that. I think that’s the No. 1 thing.”
Lopez believes that Whan’s success stemmed from his ability to understand the heart of the LPGA from the start: That it’s more than a business. It’s a family.
“He cared about our sponsors,” said Lopez, “he cared about the players.”
Inkster hopes that whoever steps in as the next commissioner will rely heavily on Whan. Pressel calls Whan the LPGA’s ultimate fan, and believes he’ll always be part of the LPGA family in some fashion.
“We’re coming out of a pandemic,” said Pressel, “well, hopefully out of a pandemic eventually, and we’re still in a great position as the largest female sports organization in the world, and the longest-running.
“We owe all of that to him.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/01/06/players-react-mike-whan-leaving-lpga/