LPGA gets 2 commissioners for the price of 1

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 21, 2014 at 12:34 pm •  Published: January 21, 2014
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No one paid much attention to Mike Whan and Jon Podany the first time they were on the same team.

Now the top two executives at the LPGA Tour, they were aspiring quarterbacks as freshmen at Miami of Ohio. Neither had any idea how often, or where, their paths would cross over the next 30 years. It was only clear it most likely would not be on the football field.

"When we walked on, there were probably 14 quarterbacks in camp," Podany said. "Eight guys were on a full ride, and six of us were walk-ons. A couple of them left and said, 'This is crazy.' We were killing ourselves. It was tough to get time on the scout team as a freshman.

"But Mike and I ... I remember him distinctly," he said. "Because he had one of those Peyton Manning-type facemasks that was a little deeper — I'm not sure if it was by choice or just happened to be the helmet he got — and because he had a unique name."

Whan painted a bleaker outlook of their days with the RedHawks.

"I lasted about three weeks," Whan said. "Jon lasted about three years. He's a much better athlete."

The LPGA Tour starts this week with the PureSilk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island, and while the attention is on the tour's current version of the Big Three — Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis and Suzann Pettersen — the former walk-on quarterbacks just might be the biggest stars.

Whan starts his fourth full season as the commissioner. Podany is the chief marketing officer of the LPGA. Both were finalists to be LPGA Tour commissioner. The tour wound up with the ultimate two-for-one deal.

Whan is the consummate salesman, with a deep belief in the product and whose every word teems with energy. Podany packs 15 years of experience at the PGA Tour, where he was highly regarded in business development and brand management.

It was a good job, a stable job with one of the strongest and most financially sound organizations in sports. And it was a big risk for Podany to leave for the LPGA Tour, which was reeling financially from the stubborn style of Carolyn Bivens, who was forced out after four years.

That changed one day when an old friend stuck his head in the door.

Whan had gone to PGA Tour headquarters to meet with Commissioner Tim Finchem when he stopped by to see Podany. The new commissioner couldn't take his eyes off the ultimate black book — in this case, a large, white board in Podany's office that was filled with PGA Tour corporate partners.

"Jon said, 'You love that board, don't you?' I said, 'I need all that stuff,'" Whan said. "We went to lunch. I started talking and I was selling. Jon said, 'Are you really asking me to come work there? I said, 'I need you.'"

The final pitch was personal. Podany has three daughters, all very athletic. Whan asked him to consider a job that matters to young female athletes.

It worked.

"It was a big risk at the time," Podany said. "But it was a unique opportunity to do something together. I felt like with my PGA Tour experience, I could bring something to the LPGA Tour. Having three daughters was a factor, too. I felt like the opportunity to have an impact in the women's world could be something they found value in."