Less than a month after completing the Herculean task of putting together a robust 2021 LPGA schedule, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan has announced his decision to leave the tour in 2021.
Whan shared the news on Wednesday with staff, members and sponsors via a letter, saying that he would never leave the LPGA if the future was uncertain or if momentum wasn’t trending in the right direction. Whan completed his 11th year with the LPGA, the longest tenure of any commissioner. No exact date has been set for his departure.
“One of the hardest jobs of a leader is to know when their work is done,” Whan wrote in the letter. “If the COVID-19 pandemic taught me anything, it was that the LPGA executive staff has full control of our business and is capable of incredible things. We have leaders who are visionary, compassionate, collaborative and humble. You may not agree with every decision they make, but they have led our Tours to new heights virtually every year.”
“The LPGA is poised for even greater heights; and as such, I’m excited to hand the baton to the next leader and become their biggest supporter.”
— LPGA (@LPGA) January 6, 2021
The tour had only 24 tournaments and official prize money of $41.4 million when Whan took over. The 2021 schedule, while still in the midst of a global pandemic, has a record $76.45 million and 34 official events.
“I’m grateful for the time and work Mike put into this tour,” said veteran Angela Stanford. “In my opinion, he saved us twice. He has the right to move on, knowing he left the LPGA in a better place.”
Whan’s decision to embrace the global nature of the tour and his “Act Like a Founder” mantra for both staff and players helped bring the tour out of a downward spiral. He also made it a point to put the check writers first, a tactic that served the tour especially well in 2020 when strong relationships kept a schedule intact. The 2020 season was an absolute triumph, with only 42 positive COVID-19 tests out of the 7,200 that were given and every sponsor returning to the table in 2021.
“Mike Whan has been a transformational leader of the LPGA and we’ve been fortunate to retain him for 11 years,” LPGA Board Chair Diane Gulyas said in a statement. “When he told of me of his intention to step down this year, I had two reactions: First, can we persuade him to stay? And, when that wasn’t possible, to fully respect his decision and begin a seamless transition.”
Whan addressed his timing in the letter, though he made no indications of what might be next.
“You may be wondering why I’ve made the decision to step down – and why now?” he wrote. “In many ways, this past year – with all the pandemic challenges – was also the LPGA’s most triumphant. We are entering 2021 on a wave of momentum – a strong schedule with record purses, new events/sponsors, double-digit viewership growth, and a talented team that demonstrated exceptional skill, resilience and capability to lead through challenging times.”