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March 31, 2015

Mike Whan


THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for being here in the press center at the ANA Inspiration. Great pleasure to have the Commissioner of the LPGA, Mike Whan, on the stage. I haven't spent much time with Mike over the last couple of days, and you haven't talked to me, so you know none of the questions that are coming at you right now. Are you good with that?

COMMISSIONER WHAN: I've never been more nervous in my life.

THE MODERATOR: You've been in the press room for the last little while listening to some of the top players on this Tour, and I don't think I've asked you this question. What is your impression listening to them speaking about golf, and the Tour and kind of everything?

COMMISSIONER WHAN: That I'm unnecessary because they got it. You know what I mean? To hear them first talk about their passion to this event and what it meant to them before they were pros and what it means to the future women pros. I knew that I felt that. I don't know if I've ever asked that question of them. But the respect they give each other. When you asked Michelle the question about the family atmosphere I mean, there is a family atmosphere here. It was here before I got here and it will be here when I'm gone. It's neat. There is a special aura going on right now where I remember hearing Coach Krzyzewski once saying when your best player is your hardest worker, you're on to something. When you think about the LPGA, some of our best players are our most engaging players. Not just with the fans and the media but with each other. And they set a tone out here. If you've met Lydia, she's going to set that tone and then some. It's a neat time for women's golf.

THE MODERATOR: Brought you up here to talk about various topics and take questions from media members here. Kind of a where are we right now with the LPGA. And before we get to some of those questions, and congratulations on extending your commissionership for a few years, which was announced today. I think I'd be incorrect if I didn't ask you what that means to you to be a part of this Tour for your tenure thus far and moving forward?

COMMISSIONER WHAN: I was honored to be asked. I always say in board meetings I'm proud to be part of this crazy family, because that is what it is. It's kind of a crazy traveling family. I feel like I'm part of the family, and I feel like we've got a long way to go. I've said many times I don't want to be remembered as the team that brought us from 23 to 33 events. That seems incredibly underwhelming and unfulfilling. It just seems there is a lot more we can do. A lot more we have done. I think some of the stuff we've done outside of the Tour is just as exciting as what is going on with purses and tournaments.

THE MODERATOR: Let's run through some of those things. Specifically, let's talk about something that Lexi talked about when she was up here which is Girl's Golf. All the things we discuss internally, that might be the one that probably brings the biggest smile to your face. It's not necessarily the tournament.

COMMISSIONER WHAN: Yeah, it's the one we probably speak the least about. I'm not sure why we don't talk about it more. But in 2009 we had about 4500 girls a year going through the Girl's Golf program that we share with USGA. In a pretty interesting meeting in early 2010 we had a meeting where I think I said let's either do something that matters or stop doing it. The challenge was could we get the 50,000 girls a year by the time we got to the Olympics in 2016. And I think we'll get to 50,000 a year, so I think we'll get there a year ahead of time. I don't know if I can take credit for it, but I'll say right after making that comment it will sound like I'm taking credit for it. But the last time when the NGF data came out and there were 300,000 more women joining the game, and 180,000 of them were under the age of 18, I feel like we've made a difference. I'm proud of what the USGA has done. I'm proud of RR Donnelly that's been a big part of that. I'm proud of what the Founders Cup has done. But together we've put a lot more women and a lot more girls only atmospheres to keep them and get them started and keep them in this game. I think if you talk to those women from the champions dinner last night, it's not just how well you enjoy the trophies, but what you leave behind that should be the report card.

Q. I'm going to give you three key parts to the Tour and its success or if you weren't having success that I think are fundamentally important. No. 1 let's start with partners. The word I would probably use, and I've got Cs for every one of these words. Committed, partners committed. Your take on partnerships and where the LPGA is right now?
COMMISSIONER WHAN: Partnerships, it seems like a new buzz phrase, but I think for 65 years partnerships has been the critically important part. I've made this comment many times and I think a lot of people think it's just me trying to get a quote in. But we want to be the standard for customer centric sports. I know a lot of people tell me about other sports that are great when it comes to partnership. I don't think we have a rival, and I think we're going to not to grow that. I've said many times. I have no experience being the commission of anything, but I've been a sponsor of a lot of things. I know what it feels like to be on that side of the table. When you hear Lexi and Michelle talk about ANA and give credit and praise and thanks to them, it tells me that the partnership and role reversal is alive and well in our organization. It's just the way to do business. Hopefully we'll continue to do business that way. I put ING who we're partnered with in this event, PGA of America who our partnership event will be in June. We're more than comfortable realizing it's going to take more than just the LPGA to create the biggest women's Tour in the world, so when in doubt, we'll find a partner to do it with us.

Q. Partners come from talent. There is a lot of that on the Tour. Let's talk about players. Perhaps this word fits, coveted.
COMMISSIONER WHAN: Are you talking about this event?

Q. Just in general the Tour make-up right now of the stars that we have. It feels there are a lot of folks that want their time, their photos, and want a part of coming out to see them play.
COMMISSIONER WHAN: I think the interesting thing just sitting here and thinking about all the interviews we've done in the last two days, how many truly the best players in the world aren't being talked about just yet? I mean, Lydia carries a pretty big shadow now because of what she's doing. But when I think about So-Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng, Suzann Pettersen and even Inbee who we haven't talked about a lot in the last 24 hours. The chase pack is unbelievable right now. I think any player in the Top 10 of the U.S. Rolex World Rankings would say not only staying there, but growing in there, has never been harder. The cool thing is how we started. But those players seem to get along and help each other, which is us. To see Michelle and Stacy working out together and pushing each other says a lot about this Tour.

Q. How about from a fan's perspective? This over the years has been an event that draws really large galleries, and there is a lot of buzz in this community of the Coachella Valley. Connectivity is the thing you preach a lot about and us trying to grow with our fans. What would you say to the folks about that?
COMMISSIONER WHAN: I would say if you want to understand what this event means, spend Sunday afternoon in the bleachers on the side of the walk on 18 because that walk from either your second, my third shot, but for some of them their second shot, walking to the green when you walk across and high five everybody on the gallery on the right side and see the Dinah Shore Trophy on the left and cross over the bridge, that is is the LPGA. First off, you go by the woman who has been making flowers and handing flowers to women for 30-something years. I'll get one tomorrow during the Pro-Am. But that's our history right there. Walking in front of the crowd, high-fiving them, seeing Dinah Shore and walking across the putt on 18, that is the LPGA. In 3 minutes and players coming every 3 seconds, that's what we're all about right there. That is the best part of the LPGA.

Q. You're kind of into the whole social media now, and the numbers are growing, which is a tribute, I think, not only to the players but media members who retweet and fans who have jumped in. How big is that from you? From what you've seen over the last five years of your tenure and how it's been important to the LPGA?
COMMISSIONER WHAN: If I was being honest, and you certainly know this, I was pushed into social media. I didn't jump into social media. I wasn't sure people needed another vehicle to talk to me. I felt like the email and phone quantity I got a day was enough. But you guys know with my hyperactivity there is nothing better than the instant feedback you get with fans and players. At the end of the day, if I want to know what's going on my Tour, I can walk the range all I want, but Twitter is where I get it.

Q. When people ask you about Lydia Ko, whether it's sponsors, neighbors, come complete strangers, what is the most common thing they want to know about her?
COMMISSIONER WHAN: Most want to know what kind of 17-year-old she is. They tell you about her accomplishments. So when I'm in an airport and somebody talks to me about Lydia Ko, I don't have to talk about wins or age or anything, but they want to know what is she like? 17 and all this happening. I always say the most exciting thing about Lydia Ko is she's 17 going on 18. And I've met a lot of 22-year-olds going on 40 because this job, this career grows you up in a hurry. You've got to be more guarded than you thought you had to be. There are a lot of stressors on your time. You can sometimes forget to be 20-something. What's really neat about Lydia, and we both know it, and I think you know it from interviewing her she's still 17 in a lot of ways. It's incredible. I remember sitting on a shuttle bus in San Francisco and I remember sitting behind Lydia and Danielle Kang, and they gigged like they were going to a high school field trip the whole time. They were showing each other videos and everything else. For a while I wanted to say let me see. Because as a creepy old guy I wanted to know what they were laughing about. But I left them alone because it was just fun to see them having fun. Sometimes in professional sport you can forget to have fun. Lydia reminds me what Yani used to say a lot. I just am trying to have fun out there and smile my way through the round. When I'm really miserable on a golf course, I try to channel my inner Lydia and smile my way through my triple bogeys. But it's fun to see her be 17 going on 18. It's incredible what she's doing. It's even more incredible that she's doing it and still being young and fun.

THE MODERATOR: A true story in the Bahamas in the hotel lobby she came up to me and said, Is there anything you need from me? Talk about role reversal. I almost didn't know what to say. But I think that speaks volumes about some of the players on the Tour. It's not just hey, yes, I'll help. It's how can I help and be a part of the family atmosphere you're talking about.

COMMISSIONER WHAN: Yeah, the fact that she gave everybody chocolates and a thank you note at the Bahamas says a lot about who she is.

Q. So between now and 2020 what are your two biggest initiatives and what would you like to see happen out here?
COMMISSIONER WHAN: Well, there is Tour and there is non-Tour. On the Tour side, I really would like to see us expand our exposure to grab a more casual fan. I've said this many times. If I was really a great partner to the Golf Channel, five or six times a year I'd grab a casual fan and bring it back to them. Because a lot of times right now I grab a large audience that they've delivered on the Golf Channel. What I'd really like to be is the kind of partner that says thank you for that. And six, seven, eight, nine times a year I bring a body back to them. Because they want more people to come to the channel and I want more viewers. I'd like to capture a lot more casual fans. We see it out here on Tour, how many fans go I didn't know it was this good out here on the LPGA. I think for 65 years we've been maybe the greatest secret in sports. I'd like to kill some of the secrecy, and I'd like to find some network opportunities to bring some of that back. I'd like to continue to expand the boundariness of the LPGA. I think the Olympics gives us an opportunity to throw the boundariness of women's golf into hyperspace, because I think there are a lot more countries and people in other countries that will get a good look at what we're all about. I think a lot of people talk about being excited about the Olympics. But what I get excited about is I love the Olympics. But there are so many sports that if I like them, I have to wait four years to watch them again. If you like us in the Olympics, we'll be on the next week. We'll be playing the Women's Canadian Open the week after the Olympics. So if you like our players and like what you see, you can follow us again 34, 35 more times that year. I think if you like kayaking or sometimes women's gymnastics or everything else, you're out again for quite a while. I think we have an opportunity through the Olympics and network TV to truly expand the fan base for the women's game. I think if we do those two things, purses and growth and financial opportunity will take care of itself. I don't have to focus on two. I think we'll get one, and two will take care of itself. On the non-Tour side, I'd really like to see our teaching club professional division go global. I think it's an incredible North American business. I think it could be a global business like our Tour. And on Girl's Golf, I'd like to see us do what we've done for Girl's Golf and now find a bunch of partners to take it to the next level. Whether it's Girl Scouts, Girls in the Game, Girls on the Run, there are a lot of great girls programs that we can bring golf to and take this introduction to the game to much greater masses. I think we had to build the platform, and we've built it for all those things to happen.

THE MODERATOR: Beth Ann would maybe be able to come up and talk about this because she has experience covering the Tour. But we talk a lot about the young players on the Tour. I want to give you a chance to talk about the pipeline to the LPGA Tour and the growth in the Symetra Tour, and what your goals are for that Tour specifically and where we are and where you'd like to go?

COMMISSIONER WHAN: The true answer is when I started in 2010, I asked the board for a pass on the Symetra Tour for a couple of years. I know we had bought it a couple years before. I really didn't think we had integrated it or figured out what we wanted to do with it. And I knew that and saw it in 2010. But I was afraid of going after too many things at once. So I asked for two years not to kind of just not pursue that. But after that starting in 2012 we got pretty serious about the Symetra Tour. We want to play about 25 times a year in the perfect world. Once we get to 25, the same thing will happen there that's happening on the LPGA Tour. Once we set boundaries around the number of times we're going to play, the financial opportunities in each of those is going to go up. There isn't room for more and everybody would be fighting. When there were only 14 events on the Symetra Tour, every player played. When there are 25 events on the Symetra Tour kind of like what's happening on the LPGA, players will start skipping four or five events and the competition to not be one of those four or five will take care of itself. I really want them, and I think I've seen rookies that come off the Symetra Tour are so much more prepared not only to be great players out here, but great ambassadors out here. So going from three people making it to the Symetra Tour to 10 was a strategic decision. The next ten going through final stage of Q-school was a strategic decision. And I think long-term, I hope we have a 70-30 split between Symetra and Q-school long-term because I think it's good for them. It's good for the business, and we've moved almost all of our player development, all of our rookie development down to the Symetra Tour level. Saying that seems like a no-brainer. A few years ago it seemed you were a rookie and went through all of this rookie training. Now we do that at the Symetra level and it's a better way to run a Tour.

Q. Two questions, you've talked about securing the five pillars of the Tour, the five majors. Do you think your work there is done for at least a few years with this tournament and the women's PGA now secure?
COMMISSIONER WHAN: Is your question whether or not we're not pursuing majors you mean?

Q. No. Do you feel like those five are where you wanted them to be two or three years ago when you were secure?
COMMISSIONER WHAN: Financial security, yes. I'm not a big fan of status quo, so I wouldn't say any of those five do we want to say we're there. This event will get bigger and better. I have zero doubt about that. Let's talk in June how great the first KPMG Women's PGA Championship is. But knowing both of those partners, they won't allow '16 to be the same as '15. I think Evian championship is only going to get better each year knowing how much stuff we've changed in the course of that transition. So I don't worry so much about the financial stability of those events. But I said this in a player meeting in Ocala, I'm not going to leave with our five majors being exactly the same when I leave as they are today. I feel like that's a commitment any commissioner has to make to his players.

Q. Last night at the champions dinner and Lexi and Michelle up here today both talked about losing this tournament. The idea was always that the Tour would do at least a year without a sponsor to keep that period. Were things more dire than we thought they were?
COMMISSIONER WHAN: Yeah, based on reading your articles you knew they were dire and so did I. I probably have told the players a hundred times we're not going to lose this event. But players know how this process goes. There wasn't a name on top of the event, and that is difficult. Somebody's got to pay the bills. We were prepared to continue playing if we didn't have a title sponsor, but that's a formula that couldn't last forever. I don't have those kind of resources to be able to do that forever. But, yeah. I think the players know across the board. I say this every week, you get to come here and play for money and get to play in front of 170 countries. But if you want to keep playing here in front of 170 countries and for money -- it doesn't necessarily just have to be here. That's Carlsbad, Phoenix, San Francisco, Hawaii, fill in the blank. We've got to be great business partners. That's why the first thing they got when they showed up here was the customer profile sheet that said, why is ANA doing this? What do we have to do to be a good partner? I want our athletes to be involved in what it takes to be good business partners and impressively as they are, I think that's why the LPGA is on the arise.

Q. 33 events on the LPGA Tour. Some great big-time events that you mentioned, the KPMG Women's PGA, obviously elevation of this sponsorship, the Evian, the Founders Cup, some of the other things that have gone on. A lot of people look at the strength of the Tour as perhaps growth in number of events. I know you don't necessarily look at that as something that motivates you for tomorrow. So I'm going to give you two options of things that you could pick one that would be the main priority or something you really want to focus on. Is it purse growth now that you've gotten those events? More money for the players to play for, or is it exposure on TV and for the media?
COMMISSIONER WHAN: I'm not sure that everybody would agree with this statement. Probably a lot of players would disagree. I don't think you can focus on purse growth. I think that's a false pursuit. If you want higher purses, deliver more and request more for the delivery. I think for me to go around the Tour and say to 33 sponsors, my gosh I need of to have a 20% higher purse, is a great way to lose sponsors. What I'm going to deliver is 20% more value, and that's going to deliver 20% greater purse growth. I think that I believe that. I believe it will happen. I'm more than comfortable with you quoting me on that. Because I think as we deliver more in the women's game, we'll deliver more, and as a result of delivering more -- I sell what I can return. So if I'm across from a CEO, CFO or CMO I want to sell them something that at the end of the event when I go back in a month and we sit down and talk about it they feel like they got their money's worth. As I give them more than their money's worth, I'm comfortable requesting more because I'm giving them more than their money's worth. But if you just say I want to grow purses, I think that's a false pursuit. Thinking like a sponsor, I'm going to deliver more, and at the end of the day it will turn into more for us, and I've seen that happen already.

Q. Exposure on the biggest stages and biggest events is something you do think about with regularity?
COMMISSIONER WHAN: It's exposure and it's delivering on their objectives. A lot of times exposure is my objective to be honest. They like the exposure, but what they're doing it for is something more specific, 30 Kia dealers. It's us making sure we engage Honda Thailand and Channel 7 in Thailand. It's really about a hundred of the largest customers of HSBC Bank in Singapore. Understanding why they're doing it and how they're going to evaluate value is the most important thing. I want to see exposure growth, and I'll get that. At the same time I want to make sure we're delivering more for each partner, and if we're doing that, they'll invest more.

Q. This job requires a lot of diet Pepsi, a lot of wear and tear. When you first took this on, did you have any idea how long you thought you might stick around? And at what point did this become -- it seems like it's a family for you, too. It's very much a heartfelt decision for you to stick around for another six years?
COMMISSIONER WHAN: I don't know what point. That point happened pretty early. You guys have all been through different career choices too, and every once in a while you land some place and feel like this is my family. It would have been difficult, I think, to leave now. When I started I signed a four-year deal. In my second year we expanded it to a six-year deal, and I kind of thought that will do it. As this one came, the question to Mike Trager, our board chair, was do you like doing this? Do you believe you still make a difference and you feel like there is more to do? He said me up because those are yes, yes, and yes. I do believe there is more to do. I do believe we built a superstar team. My personal exhaustion in 2010 to '11 was on a scale of 4 to 1 versus today just because I've got a better team in place. Most of the time as we're pursuing new tournaments or existing tournaments I'm not that involved anymore, which I'm sure they love. It drives me crazy, but bottom line is I've got people that are good enough to do this without me. The only thing I hesitate when I think about the job long-term, I believe to do it well, you've got to be here. I'm not sure everybody else agrees with me on that, including some of my board members. But as a former sponsor, I find it difficult to have me talk about you writing a big check and not be here when you're spending it, so it's physically tough. But when I think about Karen's questions to the players, I leave on a lot of Thursday and Fridays. They stay till Sunday, zip their bag up and go to the next one on Monday. I go home for three days. So that is sort of an unfair advantage I have over the players. Physical exhaustion is -- you all know this too. The kind of jobs you're in, physical exhaustion has got to be a part of your job. You get over that sacrifice if you love what you're doing, and I get over exhaustion, because I love what I'm doing, and I love the people I'm doing it with.

Q. A question about the name, the ANA Inspiration. Where did that come from? Was that your idea? Their idea?
COMMISSIONER WHAN: I wish I remember the story. I do remember John Podany, our chief commercial officer, saying you know on the side of their planes it says the Inspiration of Japan, and there is nothing more inspirational than the desert, and I think it went from there. We had a lot of names the first time we went there. But when we showed them Inspiration from almost the first minute we started playing with variations of Inspiration. Desert Inspiration, Inspiration of the Desert, we went through a lot of different what ifs. At the end of the day I'm a big fan of the shorter the better, and so were they. I don't really know. I remember John coming to me and talking about the side of the airplane. And literally maybe a day or two later, I was in Taiwan, and I think we landed at LAX and when we pulled in next to me was an ANA and it said the Inspiration of Japan and it started hitting. I remember when we did the press conference in Naples, when we walked into the press conference a lot of players were going, Inspiration, I don't know. And as we walked out of the press conference, almost every player said we're on to something in this name. So when you talk about this tournament, you can't not talk about being inspired. So it's one of those names that got better with time.

Q. Hi, I'm here on behalf of my radio station for my college.

Q. What would you consider to be your most proudest or defining moment as LPGA Commissioner?
THE MODERATOR: Job applications are in the back, by the way.

COMMISSIONER WHAN: Proudest moment?

THE MODERATOR: You stumped him.

COMMISSIONER WHAN: I don't really know what I would say is the proudest moment. I think reading Mike's letter today I was pretty proud of what we've done in the last five or six years because you never really stop and put it all together. I don't know what kind of personality you have, but at the end of the year I think of all the stuff we didn't do, and I can't help myself. It's all what we fell short of. I think that's as my wife would say healthy to an unhealthy state. But I do like focusing on that. I think if I was forced to be there right now, I can't take any credit for what goes on out there. Those players were superstars before I got here. They're going to be superstars after I leave here. I didn't teach them anything. They taught me more. Proudest moment was probably sitting on the 18th green of the first Founders Cup and watching players from today's generation thank the players from yesterday's generation. When Karrie Webb won that event she turned around and gave $50,000 to the future of the game. And to me that was the coolest. It all came together. We played for them. We followed their philosophy, and as a result, the next generation is going to play golf. That's pretty cool. In my little world, that was pretty cool. It may not seem too cool to you guys, but to me that was pretty awesome.

THE MODERATOR: I'll wrap this up. Take this in a big picture form not specifically, and not meant to embarrass you. But Sports Business Journal just notified us that we were at the LPGA one of five finalists with sports league of the year with pretty heavy hitters, NASCAR, Major League Soccer, the NBA, and the Big East conference. What does that say in the big picture about where the LPGA has come? Where it's trying to go and maybe the word relevancy?

COMMISSIONER WHAN: At the end of the day the coolest thing about that award is the ultimate team award. This sport can be individualistic, you and your caddie and coach. Sometimes we're all out there traveling on the road just like you all and you can sort of think you're the only one grinding through this. But when they recognize sports league of the year, they're talking about a whole team. Everybody in our building and everybody on that range can take pride in that. I think a lot of times we're just grinding along trying to get to next year's objectives. We don't think anyone's paying attention. That is the first time I think in a long time when I saw that letter come in that we stopped and said it's, A, who cares who wins, right? It's just really cool to be recognized in that class of folk. I'm not sure if the LPGA has been in that casing before. Win, lose or draw in that thing, I feel like our team won. Maybe we always knew that, but it's nice to have somebody else recognize that.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you all for covering the LPGA and getting that type of exposure as well.

COMMISSIONER WHAN: Thank you guys for supporting this event for so many years, and I know some people will hit a plane on a Saturday night, trying to get to a drive, chip and putt, but keep writing about it. It's made a real difference. Even though the players come through here and do their press thing, but trust me, you covering us is what's made the difference for the LPGA. Keep doing it.

THE MODERATOR: Commissioner Mike Whan, thank you all for being here this afternoon. We appreciate it.
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