Newly announced USGA CEO Mike Whan
The USGA has announced that Mike Whan will replace Mike Davis as the organization's new CEO. During a conference call with Davis, president Stu Francis, and USGA communications manager Beth Major, Whan discussed his perceptions of the USGA, his vision for the game, and his decision process in coming on board.
I'm betting that the 11-year veteran leader of the LPGA is going to be very well received by the entire industry -- from the major tours, to equipment manufacturers, to competitive and casual golfers and fans of the game.
One thing stood out. The man that described himself on the call as "highly caffeinated" and who Davis and Francis both called "fun to work with" has landed his dream job.
He told the story of going to work as a teenager on the grounds crew of a golf course, and saying (like so many of us) "this putt is for the U.S. Open."
Having served -- in addition to his 11 years with the LPGA -- in sales and marketing roles for TaylorMade-adidas golf in the late 90s, he will bring a complete knowledge of the industry, and should his choice should looked upon very favorably by the manufacturers, despite the ongoing cloud of the USGA's distance initiative.
“I didn’t realize people cared much about my opinion on the distance debate until the last 24 hours,” said Whan, before adding that he will need to understand the situation more fully before he forms an opinion.
Having mentioned friends like David Abeles (TaylorMade); Chip Brewer (Callaway); and John Solheim (Ping) as well as Acushnet Golf multiple times, it's clear that Whan views the industry very favorably, and actually considers the R&D and games of leap frog played between them and golf's governing bodies as a plus for the game.
Comparing golf to bowling and other sports, Whan said that he hasn't seen the kind of excitement and hope among players that new golf equipment gives golfers.
"I believe what makes golf great is the hundred of millions of dollars spent on equipment," he said.
“Golf, despite it’s long history, has always has always had an excitement factor --- I’m certainly not going to be the person to handcuff R&D."
“As soon as we establish standards,” he said, “A thousand engineers will be finding ways to get around them, and I am looking forward to that.”
Whan's move to the USGA follows an impressive 11 years leading the LPGA. Under his leadership the organization experienced historic growth in virtually every aspect of the business.
Just how much did the LPGA change during Whan's tenure? Here are a few facts:
* Since joining the LPGA in 2010, Whan increased the number of tournaments on the LPGA Tour’s schedule to 34 from 24, increased purses from $41.4 million to $76.5 million, and grew television hours from 125 hours per season, to over 500 hours.
* Under his leadership, the LPGA became a truly global business – with players, tournaments, sponsors and fans coming from all over the world.
* Currently, the LPGA Tour is televised in over 170 countries each week. Whan’s leadership resulted in the expansion of the LPGA to now include both the Symetra Tour, the recently announced joint venture with the Ladies European Tour, as well as a nearly 50% increase in LPGA’s teaching division.
Perhaps the proudest accomplishment for Whan is what he and the organization did for the growth of girls and women's golf. His focus on growing the game for junior girls has led to a significant expansion of the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program, which had 5,000 members when he joined the organization to 90,000 girls now engaged in the program.
What might be his best quality is his ability to "form a huddle" as he said, and pull disparate groups and organizations together. That ability will serve him (and the entire industry the USGA serves) well.
"I’m pretty comfortable in the area of pulling together strategic alliances," he said. “None of my accomplishments in the last 11 years came because I was a genius. But I have been able to get people together and rally around the women’s game.”
Whan started his career at the Procter & Gamble Company in 1987, where he rose to Director of Marketing for Oral Care before leaving to pursue a passion for sports. Whan’s sports business career began at Wilson Sporting Goods as a Vice President and General Manager in the golf division. He joined the TaylorMade Golf Company as Vice President of Marketing in 1995 and later served as Vice President of Sales and Marketing and Executive Vice President/General Manager for Taylormade-adidas Golf.
“As someone who grew up loving this game, I have always had huge respect for the USGA and its role in leading our sport,” said Whan. “The game has given me so much throughout my life, both personally and professionally. I know I have a lot to learn, but I’m truly excited about this role, as it gives me the opportunity to not only give back to the game, but to also work hard to leave it stronger.”
Current USGA CEO Mike Davis, who joined the USGA in 1990 and became the Association’s seventh executive director in 2011 and first CEO in 2016, will depart later this year to team with Tom Fazio II in a new course design venture, Fazio & Davis Golf Design.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mike Whan for many years and I view him as a trusted, strategic leader who has a proven track record of building collaborative partnerships,” said Davis. “I know the USGA will be in great hands, and I look forward to partnering with Mike to ensure a smooth and successful transition for the USGA.”
Whan will transition to his position this summer, as he assists the LPGA with it's search for a new leader.