America Open is returning this week to the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., one in all the five founding clubs of the US Golf Association. It should be the club’s fourth U.S. Open. Its first, in 1913, when a 20-year-old amateur won, still lives in sports lore.
The club has also hosted several United States Amateur and United States Women’s Amateur tournaments and a Ryder Cup. Founded within the nineteenth century, it has deep traditions.
But this time around, the US Golf Association, which chooses the clubs and organizes the U.S. Open and 13 other national championships annually, has at its helm a recent chief executive who has cultivated a repute for being the other of a traditionalist. The manager, Mike Whan, is a changemaker, within the parlance of the company marketing world he got here up in.
For 11 years before joining the united statesG.A. last yr, Whan was the commissioner of the L.P.G.A., taking it from a struggling U.S.-based entity to a thriving global tour with more events and more prize money.
“He rebuilt the tour, after which reimagined its future, by bringing recent events, recent sponsors and a recent value proposition around diversity and inclusion to the L.P.G.A.,” said Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, the L.P.G.A. Tour’s player president, when Whan stepped down. “He has that rare ability to get people of all ages and backgrounds excited and on board together with his vision.”
While the united statesG.A. attracts criticism like several governing body, it has created a wildly lucrative event within the U.S. Open, the revenue from which funds many of the organization’s other championships and initiatives around turf grass and water conservation.
Compared with the PGA Tour, the united statesG.A. looks even higher. The PGA Tour, whose playing privileges were long the goal of skilled golfers, is warding off an attack on its status by the brand new Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series, which has lured away many players.
Add in yet one more factor: Interest in golf from recreational players continues to be riding a post-pandemic high. If it’s not broke, because the saying goes, what does Whan must fix?
“Change is in the method,” Whan said in an interview at Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania. “A 35-year-old Mike Whan would have modified every part. The 57-year-old Mike Whan says, ‘Where am I needed?’ I’m not needed on championship setup. That was Mike Davis’s specialty.”
Davis was Whan’s predecessor, a 31-year veteran of the united statesG.A. who served as its executive director after which chief executive. He pushed for changes to course setups and tried recent things like different heights of rough and giving public courses, including Erin Hills in Wisconsin and Chambers Bay in Washington, a probability at hosting a U.S. Open.
Davis was given credit for trying different approaches across the championships, some more successful than others, but in addition for investing in among the less public research projects that the united statesG.A. funds. But Davis was also criticized, for a way he arrange courses (too hard) and for a way the association regulated equipment (not tightly enough).
“Their No. 1 job needs to be controlling the equipment,” said Alex Miceli, a longtime golf commentator, referring to the controversy over the space a professional can hit a ball. “The usG.A. did a horrible job with that. It’s just like the Federal Reserve saying, ‘Inflation goes to be transitory, inflation goes to be transitory, inflation goes to be transitory.’ Well, it isn’t.”
Whan said within the interview that he had little interest in wading into the course setup debate. That’s the domain of John Bodenhamer, the association’s chief championships officer.
“After I walked right into a setup meeting, I said to John, ‘I’m not needed here, and I may be a detriment,’” Whan said. “The one guidance I’ve given is once you have got a plan or a technique, don’t change it. Don’t let scores or the media change it. Athletes don’t want that. I do know that from being the L.P.G.A. commissioner.”
Yet when Whan got here on board after last yr’s U.S. Open, several senior U.S.G.A. executives left, with the chief business officer departing on Whan’s first day in charge and the chief brand officer leaving a few month later.
Whan then did something that no association executive has done: He brought in a title sponsor for one in all the organization’s marquee championships. America Women’s Open, which dates from 1946, is now the U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica. The partnership with the health care company nearly doubled the purse to $10 million. When the Australian golfer Minjee Lee won the championship this month, she took home a record $1.8 million first-place check.
Whan said within the interview that his focus was on improving the essential things the association did that nobody saw.
“On planes, I’d get the query, ‘What does the united statesG.A. do?’” he said, pulling out a card with “U.S.G.A.” written down the side. “I got here up with Unify, Showcase, Govern and Advance.”
And for him the last one is a priority. “‘Advance’ was the massive one which was missing,” he said. “We don’t wish to preserve; we preserved croquet and that’s not good.”
Big areas of investment are strategies to scale back water usage and to develop junior golfers that way other countries do.
While Whan said he had no desire to tinker with the U.S. Open, he’s also not about to neglect the tournament that brings in around 75 percent of the organization’s revenue.
“The secret’s to not take it without any consideration,” he said, drawing a comparison to skilled bowling, which dominated weekend television time when he was a baby, but has fallen off drastically. “If we take it without any consideration, there’s no reason we couldn’t find yourself like bowling.”
He repeated an oft-told story about Jason Gore, a former PGA Tour player who’s the senior director of player relations at the united statesG.A. Where the players win their U.S. Opens matters, Gore told him.
While the boys’s side is sewed up with stern tests for the following decade, including Oakmont, Shinnecock Hills, Pebble Beach and Merion, Whan has made a push to have equally prestigious sites for the U.S. Women’s Open, with Riviera, Merion, Pinehurst and Pebble Beach on the roster.
Securing these sites has include U.S.G.A. investments. At Pinehurst, the association is constructing a second headquarters. At Pebble Beach, it’s constructing a everlasting player pavilion, which the course can use for other events. Taking a long-term view, the organization has done capital improvements to a number site; previously it has put up and brought down structures.
These initiatives are supposed to make it easier for the U.S. Open, an immense logistical undertaking that ties up courses for months, to return back yr after yr. However it’s also to have sites host other events and work toward his goal of advancing other initiatives.
“I don’t need U.S. Open partners,” Whan said. “I would like partners in growing the sport. We would like to be certain that these cathedrals of golf accept the responsibility to host not only the most important and probably the most financially lucrative events.”