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Can a new administrator of a major golf association significantly change the game? In mid-February, Mike Whan was named CEO of the United States Golf Association (USGA), replacing Mike Davis, who is retiring this summer.
The USGA, along with the Royal and Ancient Golfing Society of the U.K., are the respected “keepers of the game,” as they are responsible for the rules, standards and structure of the worldwide game of golf for both amateurs and professionals. After more than 30 years with the USGA, Davis will team with Tom Fazio in a new golf course design venture.
Whan steps down after serving 11 years as Commissioner of the LPGA, and in that time became a superstar for taking a league on the brink of disaster and transforming it into one of the most dynamic sports properties in the world.
Whan increased the number of LPGA scheduled tournaments from 24 to 34, with increased purses from $41 million to $76 million, while quadrupling the television hours per season to more than 500 hours.
Whan was a somewhat unlikely choice to head the USGA, as all previous CEOs have come up through the USGA ranks. But the search committee, led by USGA president Stu Francis, encouraged “a healthy and aggressive discussion” about needing a fresh perspective.
“We’ve never gotten an outsider to come in and lead the USGA in 100+ years,” Francis said. “It’s going to be a new USGA. Mike is already a trusted peer for so many stakeholders in the industry and his existing relationships will not only help the USGA but will also help advance the game.”
Whan has an extensive portfolio of business positions and experience. He started at Procter & Gamble in 1987, where he rose to director of marketing for oral care before leaving to pursue his passion for sports. He joined Wilson Sporting Goods as a vice president and general manager in the golf division.
He joined TaylorMade Golf Company as vice president of marketing in 1995, and later served as vice president of sales and marketing and executive vice president and general manager for TaylorMade/Adidas Golf.
In 2002, he became president and CEO of Mission Hockey.
Whan is taking over the USGA helm as the world is entering the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will further impact many tournaments scheduled. The biggest are the U.S. Open, the Women’s U.S. Open and the U.S. Senior Open. And there are multiple other amateur and junior tournaments, both regional and national.
The 2020 U.S. Open was moved from June to September and won brilliantly by Bryson DeChambeau at Winged Foot, without fans. This year the 121st U.S. Open is scheduled for June at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California. The pandemic will continue to be a major issue, posing challenging decisions about competitors, spectators, travel and hundreds of other variables.
The pandemic has shifted some of the USGA’s priorities and urgency, but still looming is the distance situation, which Whan must come to grips with soon enough. This has to do with the overall, global health and status of the game, both for amateurs and professionals.
The USGA has been there before: COR “trampoline” effect on drivers 25 years ago; square grooves on wedges 20 years ago; anchoring putters just six years ago; big rules changes (e.g. flagstick in) within the past two years.
But now, according to the Distance Insight Report, the golf ball flies too far and the clubs’ specifications are all on the examining table. We haven’t heard Whan’s views or stance on the distance issue, but he has been quoted as saying he intends not only to “respect history, but make some.” This is what Mike Whan promises for his USGA tenure: “There will be no greater promoter of the game.”
Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.