by Tom Cade
Editor, Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine
Michael Whan can fill a room, in the best possible way.
The 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will be held at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash. on June 9-12, and the event’s media kick-off event was held at Sahalee on August 17.
All of the championship’s key people were there. Several representatives from the PGA of America were on hand, including Pacific Northwest Section Honorary President Marcus King, Master PGA Professional Dan Hill of Broadmoor Golf Club, and of course Jim Pike, the club’s longtime PGA professional and now general manager.
Many members of the Sammamish City Council were on hand, as well as the mayor, Tom Vance, who gave the opening welcome to the event.
Also on hand were LPGA Tour players Lizette Salas, Christina Kim and Sadena Parks, who had all just arrived after competing in the tour’s Cambia Portland Classic down the freeway in Portland at Columbia Edgewater Country Club.
Parks, a native of Tacoma, played four years on the women’s golf team at the University of Washington, graduating in 2012. Her coach while at the UW, Mary Lou Mulflur, was also on hand at the kick-off event.
On the four-person panel were Shawn Quill, the director of sports marketing and sponsorships at KPMG; Kevin Ring, the chief revenue officer for the PGA of America; and Steve Oaks, the president of Sahalee.
The fourth person on the panel was Whan. The LPGA’s commissioner since 2010, Whan’s open-door policy and infectious energy has lifted the LPGA to the forefront of what a global sport can and should be. The number of tournaments under his brief reign has increased from 24 to 32. Rather than trying to fight the increasing number of international players on the women’s tour, he has embraced it, rightfully touting the LPGA as the example of the global appeal of the game that all other sports should aspire to.
During the kick-off meeting, all four panelists had the chance to speak. Whan, speaking last, launched into a speech that lasted six minutes and 50 seconds – he spoke without notes, without repeating himself, and without stopping or taking a breath. It was a wondrous example of someone at the top of their game, speaking passionately about something they believed in and about which they have given themselves over to.
“I was in Portland over the weekend (attending the LPGA’s Portland Classic),” he began, “and a reporter asked me what we should expect at Sahalee in 2016. And I thought maybe you really don’t know what to expect. So I’ll tell you now, in this past Women’s PGA Championship, we had 98 of the top 100 women golfers in the world. That’s not a fluke – when you put on the best event, hold it at the best venues and provide the biggest purses, you’re going to get the best players. And the best in the world will be coming to Sahalee.
“What else you should expect is the Olympics, and what I mean by that is that players will be representing 30 different countries, and the tournament will be aired in over 170 different countries. The best players will come here because the LPGA is where the world’s best players want to play.
“The other thing you can expect is accessibility to the players that you haven’t had with other big men’s tournaments you’ve seen in this area. I’m not saying that I’m anti-male tournaments – of course I’m anti-male tournaments (laughter). Of course we’ll have the ‘Quiet’ signs and the yellow ropes, but we won’t hold the signs quite as high, and we’ll lower the ropes a little more. We want to interact with you as much as possible. I promise you that if you yell at Christina (Kim), she’ll yell right back at you. I’ve seen it happen.
“After the 2014 Women’s PGA Championship (held that year in Rochester), I realized we had come to a critical juncture in the tournament’s history. Two weeks after that event I called Pete Bevacqua (CEO of the PGA of America) and I said, ‘Are you sitting down?’ And he said, ‘I don’t like the way this is starting.’ And I said just sit down, I think I got an idea that I think is interesting. Well, about 15 minutes into the conversation, Pete asks me if I’m in Florida right now, and he says tomorrow morning start driving to my office and I’ll start driving to yours and I’ll meet you halfway and we can meet up. So the next morning we met and spent about half the day in a room, and by the end of the day we had built the Women’s PGA Championship.”
Whan asked Bevacqua what he thought about him approaching KPMG as being the championship’s title sponsor. Bevacqua said, “Well, they’re smart people, and they’ve told me ‘no’ a lot in the past, so I’m sure they’ll be honest with you.”
Whan soon discovered that not only was KPMG interested, but were a willing and ready sponsor. “What we found out is that when you’re dealing with two partners (The PGA of America and KPMG) that have both been in business for a hundred years, they don’t think in terms of a few years, they think in terms of decades. So what’s going to happen next year here at Sahalee will be something that’s talked about for years to come. Next year’s tournament will change peoples’ lives.”
Generally, Whan’s ideas and instincts have proven to be right on, in steering the LPGA ship toward a higher tide.
And we’ll see it on display in June of 2016 at Sahalee.