For example, Whan worked with KPMG and the P.G.A. of America to rebrand and revitalize one of the women’s five major championships, arranging the inaugural KPMG Women’s P.G.A. Championship at Westchester Country Club in 2015. It was the first L.P.G.A. event to include a women’s leadership summit, and more than a dozen such events are now associated with tournaments throughout the calendar.
“It completely changed the way that Mike sold to sponsors,” said Shawn Quill, the managing director at KPMG in charge of sports sponsorships. “He embraced what we were doing, and it led to a complete change in what the value proposition was for the L.P.G.A. Tour.”
Players say Whan’s impact wasn’t limited to the tour’s relationship with sponsors. The players, both current and retired, felt a connection to their fast-speaking, self-deprecating commissioner. He created many catchy nicknames — Olson was “headband” because of her penchant for wearing the accessory as a rookie — and he constantly wrote thank-you notes.
Whan kept players top of mind as he deftly led the Tour through the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, publicly lobbying sponsors to pay their athletes even when they were not competing in the contractually required number of tournaments for the year. There was no reduction in purses for the 18 events that were played, and every tournament sponsor is set to return for 2021. When tournaments resumed, safety protocols yielded only 42 positive coronavirus tests out of the approximately 7,200 that were given throughout the year.
Communication and transparency were the two words players repeatedly used to describe Whan’s tenure, which has had a personal touch they say will be sorely missed.
The tour veteran Christina Kim remembered that when Whan was first hired, she was playing in an event in South Korea. At 3 a.m., her phone started ringing like crazy. She finally sent a text that said: “Who are you? Please stop calling me.” Whan responded that he was the new commissioner and wanted to say hello, so Kim got out of bed and called back, starting a warm relationship.
“He provided us with the knowledge that we needed to know where the Tour was and where the Tour was headed,” Kim said. “He gave us the ability to not only believe in his desires and wishes and ability for the L.P.G.A., but he made us believe that we mattered.”