LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan says the positive player response to the Australian swing on the tour will see the events grow in future.
Whan told Golf Australia’s Inside the Ropes podcast this week that the word-of-mouth factor was strong, particularly now that the ISPS Handa Vic Open has been added to the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in a two-week swing Down Under in February.
Whan said the co-sanctioned Vic Open had been “definitely the talk of the sport” for a week in February, and anticipated a stronger field at 13th Beach next year. He said the response from players visiting for the first time was similar to when the LPGA began its co-sanctioning with the Australian Open a few years ago.
“I was in Thailand and Singapore a couple of weeks after the Vic Open was over, and I was sitting in the players’ dining in Singapore listening to two players who’d played the Vic Open talking to six players who didn’t, and they were telling them how cool it was, the experience,” he said. “They’d played a practice round with different guys, shared warm-up routines. How great the fans were about the whole thing.
“To me it was like a flashback to listening (to them) after the Women’s Australian Open. Where events really take hold, when word-of-mouth within the athletes takes off. We can do what we want with promotion and all that, but at the end of the day if the athletes like it, believe it and it means something to them they’ll tell other athletes. That’s what’s going on in the LPGA. There’s been a real awakening.’’
While the Vic Open had the smallest purse ($US 1.1 million) on the LPGA Tour, Whan said the concept with its mixed men’s and women’s fields and the vibe of the event had created an impact. “I can tell you that in our locker rooms since both of those events have raised their profile because of the way other players who went have talked about it.”
He said the first year of global television coverage of the Vic Open and the co-sanctioning arrangement had alerted the world to what Australians had known for some time about the unique tournament, adding that he had received phonecalls from other tournaments wondering how the event received such blanket media coverage. “The good news in year one the world woke up to it. I think in year two you’ll start to see the results of that.’’
Whan, commissioner of the biggest women’s tour in the world since 2010, also spoke about ‘Drive On’, the new positioning campaign launched last week which connects the tour’s founders with the current-day superstars of the sport.
“Drive On is really that internal light that says ‘no matter how good or how bad your day is, remember there’s young girls looking up at you and hoping to stand on your shoulders one day’,’’ he said.