WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – The news emerging from back rooms at this Solheim Cup is potentially doubly good for the struggling Ladies European Tour.
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan told GolfChannel.com that he is seriously interested in “helping” the LET and has already initiated discussions, with the tours coming together formally for the first time at the Aberdeen Asset Scottish Ladies Open three weeks ago when Whan met with LET board members.
Whan and his staff agreed to formulate a plan to present to LET board members before the year’s end in what could potentially bring the LET under the LPGA’s umbrella, though Whan said no specific plan is being worked through yet and he’s open to creative options.
The news gets better because the LPGA isn’t alone in wanting to come to the LET’s aid.
Whan told GolfChannel.com that the men’s European Tour is also stepping forward to join in discussions.
What makes this doubly good news is not that the LPGA and European Tour will make competing presentations. It’s that Whan and European Tour CEO Keith Pelley are coming together to formulate a joint plan.
“I have talked to Keith, and we both agreed that a bunch of different versions of how we could help as second or third parties is not helpful to anybody,” Whan said. “So, we are working together, Keith and I, to provide a suggestion as to what we think we could do together. “We are trying to create one vision.”
The LET is enduring hard times, with some members fearing the tour’s collapse with seven events having been canceled this season. The LET’s schedule has been pared to just 15 events, down 11 events from six years ago. Though it’s almost September, the LET has staged just six events this year, beyond major championships.
At the Ricoh Women’s British Open two weeks ago, respected European veteran Catriona Matthew called for a change in LET leadership. A week later, LET CEO Ivan Khodabakhsh was ousted, with the LET’s board chairman, Mark Lichtenhein, taking over day-to-day duties.
Whan said the health of the LET is important to him beyond that tour’s joint ownership of the Solheim Cup, which is being played this week. Whan says the tour is important to the continuing growth of women’s golf.
“I would be lying if I said I was concerned about the Solheim Cup,” Whan said. “The Solheim Cup is going to be fine, but I do want to make sure my partner in the Solheim Cup is as healthy as they can be.”
Whan was encouraged by the LPGA’s first meeting with LET board members.
“I was enthusiastic about our first chat,” Whan said. “There was clearly an interest from them in wanting us to tell them more.
“I don’t really have a timeline for this. I do hope that before the end of the year we can sit down with them and say, `Here is the way we see it. Is this something you think we can do together?’”
The LPGA and LET have a partnership beyond the Solheim Cup. They also co-sanction the Ladies Scottish Open, the Ricoh Women’s British Open and the Evian Championship.
Whan wasn’t prepared to lay out specifics of what kind of plan may be presented to the LET.
“I’m typically a guy who will start an idea, and if I surround myself with the right people, they will make my idea better,” Whan said. “I definitely have some ideas, but I don’t know if they are right. I may end up with 10 ideas, maybe four are right, but somebody has to tell me which four.”
Whan did say he would not mind seeing an agreement create some sort of bridge for LET members wanting to play their way on to the LPGA, though he did not detail any desire to insist upon turning the LET into some kind of satellite tour.
“But I really do believe, if we are working together, it would make sense to me that players over the course of a season could qualify for the LPGA, but I’m not hung up on that,” he said.
Whan said he doesn’t see the LPGA as a “U.S. tour,” but as a global tour. He said any LET proposal he supports would have a common theme, and it relates to what he sees as his primary mission as LPGA commissioner.
“The real question ought to be, `How can we provide members of the Ladies European Tour the most playing opportunities, the most business opportunities, the most opportunities to be the best golfers in the world,’” Whan said. “When you start with that premise, decisions become a lot easier.”
Whan has proven himself capable in hard times. The LPGA was floundering in hard economic times when he took over in 2010, with the tour shrinking to just 23 events with $40 million in total prize money in 2011. Whan rebuilt the tour to where this year’s schedule features 34 events with more than $67 million in total prize money.
Whan is pleased the men’s European Tour wants to partner.
“I am excited to know Keith is willing to pull on the rope with us and with the LET to get to the same finish line,” Whan said.