Leadership is a funny thing. When times are difficult, the best rise to the occasion. How about when it’s time to make a choice and everyone surrounding you already knows the best course of action? Imagine having the resolve to stick to your routine, the patience to invite input, and then ultimately making the best choice.
On January 6, Mike Whan announced he would be stepping down as the Commissioner of the LPGA. For 42 days, the entire golfing world has been promoting Whan to become the next CEO of the USGA. Well, on Wednesday we all got our wish, but why is this good for the greater golf community?
Mike Whan was the 8th Commissioner of the LPGA. He has been hired to become the 8th CEO of the USGA. The symmetry doesn’t stop there. Most don’t remember how big of a mess the LPGA was in 2010 when Whan took over. Their brand and tour were heading in a very negative direction. Enter Mike, a sports business leader. A marketing visionary with an innate ability to inspire a whiteboard room. Not so much with ideas, but rather with the necessary energy to tackle tough challenges.
There’s no doubt golf is in a tremendous place as we start the 2021 campaign. In light of all the interest, very few golfers really know who the important leaders are in golf. We live in a society that celebrates entrepreneurs more than CEO’s; athletes more than activists. As a result, most golfers have little or no idea who leads the global golf community.
In steps Whan. Borrowing the words of Stu Francis, USGA President, and the man who hired him, “He (Whan) is a transformative leader not only in golf, but in everything he does.” That’s a pretty powerful perspective from a man who has been flying at 30,000 feet above our golf landscape for some time now.
Outside of the obvious recognition of their brand, golf needs to evolve. There are many questions surrounding the present and future of the game. Equipment, becoming more inclusive, and engaging this sudden COVID-19 surge all come to mind. The best solutions to these current questions exist within a golf community that needs to come together. This is exactly why he is the best hire by the USGA and great for all golfers.
Mike Whan is a collaborator. He has been a tremendous success because he is brilliant at bringing people to together. Inspiring them with a common cause and focusing their attention efficiently and effectively. The USGA’s leadership has been accused of being disconnected from the next-generation golfer; professional or amateur. This hire tells you there’s a new mindset in Golf House.
When I look at the recent important USGA storytellers, I see a paradigm shift in thinking. The hiring of PGA Tour player Jason Gore to improve the connection between Championship caliber players and their Championships. Their Chief Brand Officer Crag Annis wasn’t a longtime golf thinker. He wasn’t even part of golf’s inner-circle! Yet through his leadership and that of a forward-looking President such a Stu Francis, they continue to “invest in the best.”
Collaboration creates interest, it creates jobs, it creates momentum. Momentum for an industry that is already witnessing record numbers in participation and revenue. All of the above is why Mike Whan as CEO of the USGA is GREAT for all of golf.
It’s exciting to watch a leader start their journey. We have an awesome opportunity to witness him grow into this new role. Keep in mind, this isn’t a tour, it’s not an association, he is now our country’s #1 golf visionary and role model.
Whan’s leadership resonates from his opening comments this week. “I will preserve the game after I promote the game.” This quote represents the type of innovative thinking our ecosystem needs. So every stick and hack should get ready, because in watching how Whan transformed a tortured tour, I can only imagine what we will be able to experience as the USGA begins their “Whan” formation.
Keith Stewart is a PGA Professional and storyteller. He has built a unique marketplace perspective through two decades in the golf industry. As a professional, he has worked at many prestigious clubs on the east coast, most notably, Isleworth Country Club from 1998 to 2003, home to Tiger Woods at the time. Currently, Keith uses his talent as the host of the ProShow on ESPN radio across the New York City market. His expertise in the industry blended with a comedic pop-culture filter entertains his listeners. He's a 5-time award winning PGA Professional who brings credibility to any discussion covering the world of sports. Keith resides in Hopewell, NJ with his wife Laurie and their two kids Owen and Abbey. He's a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA and an avid golfer.
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