By Lewine Mair
Like many another member of the Ladies European Tour, Dame Laura Davies has her fingers crossed that Mike Whan’s replacement, when he or she comes, will have the same vision and enthusiasm as the current LPGA commissioner.
“We have so much to thank him for,” said Davies, in a reference to the 27-strong Ladies European Tour roster of events worth a record €19 million which has just been unfurled. It is a schedule in which the players do not have a free week between May and October.
Only one sponsor has dropped out since last year (although that event remains on the schedule), while there are nine new tournaments. These include an Aramco Team Series to be played in London, New York, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, each boasting a purse of €830,000. This four-part addition adds up to untold riches for LET players, some of whom, as recently as 2017, thought their professional careers were on the point of collapse.
The new schedule is strong evidence that the linking of the LPGA and LET at the end of 2019 has worked better than anyone could have visualised. “It’s been great for us to get mentioned in the same breath as the LPGA, and that’s what’s happening all the time at the moment,” Davies said. “The women feel better about themselves, our sponsors are impressed, and the fans love it.”
Dame Laura’s European tour events this coming season will definitely include the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open, the AIG Women’s Open, the Amundi Evian Championship and the Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik Stenson and Annika Sörenstam in Sweden, which should have been played for the first time last year.
“I hardly played at all in 2020 because of COVID-19, but now I can’t wait to get started again,” Davies said. “So much is so exciting.”
It goes without saying Sweden’s Julia Engström, the 2018 rookie of the year, has the mixed event high on her list of priorities along, of course, with the two other tournaments Whan has helped bring to her homeland.
Felicity Johnson, an LET regular who knows what it is to have played in the United States, is startled by all the goings-on in the past couple of weeks. On the one hand, she is upset at Whan’s departure; on the other, she is marvelling at what he has achieved with the schedule.
“Anyone looking in from the outside will see what a difference Mike has made in such a short space of time,” Johnson said. “Of course, the prize money for the tournaments we played last year wasn’t as big as it is in America, but it was a big improvement on 2019, as was everything else thanks to the LPGA’s input.”
Johnson went on to pay tribute to how well Whan, LET chief executive Alex Armas, the LPGA and the LET had worked together: “The LPGA players are really on board; I get the impression that they’re proud of these collaborative efforts.”
Scotland’s Carly Booth, currently in rehab after a shoulder operation for wear and tear, is asking for something that sounds ridiculously simple but is going to be anything but.
“All we need now is another Mike Whan,” Booth said. “Precisely the same again would be perfect, thank you. I haven’t swung a club yet but I’ll be raring to go in May.”
“Professional athletes are all the same in expecting to have things handed them on the proverbial plate, but they need to play their part, and women golfers have to be prepared to do that a bit more.”
Dame Laura Davies
In past years, LET players have lived in fear and dread of tournaments tumbling from their schedule rather than the reverse. As recently as 2017, for example, events fell away to the point where Georgia Hall headed for the Solheim Cup in Des Moines, Iowa, after having played in a paltry seven LET events compared to 22 clocked up by the American Solheim Cup brigade. This season, in contrast, extra events are still popping up, with Davies not alone in having heard rumours of an Irish Open.
In the letter Whan sent to his LPGA and LET charges when he announced his retirement, he finished off with the line, “Never stop acting like Founders!” He was referring to how he wanted them to continue to do as the first of the LPGA professionals – such as former British Ladies Amateur winners Babe Zaharias and Louise Suggs – in thinking about rather more than merely collecting cheques. They needed to care about their organisation, and they needed to look after pro-am partners in the knowledge they were all potential sponsors.
“That’s exactly what has to happen,” Davies said when reminded of that line in Whan’s letter. “Professional athletes are all the same in expecting to have things handed them on the proverbial plate, but they need to play their part, and women golfers have to be prepared to do that a bit more.”
The hope is that Whan turns up at more than a few LET events before he leaves, and that he senses the gratitude from every one of those LET members whose careers he has helped salvage. We all know golf is hardly a matter of life and death, but this truly great administrator deserves to be sent on his way with the golfers’ equivalent of a clap-in.
2021 LET Schedule At A Glance
Record-breaking total prize fund of more than €19 million
Total of 27 events across 19 countries plus the
Solheim Cup and the Olympic Games
200-plus live broadcast hours, double compared to 2020
23-week run between May and October, including five
new events in Europe
All postponed tournaments from 2020 return to the
Race to Costa del Sol provides biggest-ever LET