INCHEON, South Korea (Reuters) - LPGA chief Mike Whan says the Tour will back golf authorities no matter what decision they make about hosting the 2017 US Women’s Open at a course owned by presidential nominee Donald Trump amid a storm over sexually aggressive comments he made about women.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) is facing calls to move the event from Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey in nine months’ time after a 2005 video surfaced in which he bragged of kissing and groping women without consent.
Whan told Reuters in an interview on Saturday at the LPGA/KLPGA co-sanctioned KEB Hana Bank Championship in Incheon that he was “lucky” not to have to make that kind of decision.
The U.S. Women’s Open, the most prestigious tournament in ladies golf, is conducted by the USGA.
“In a strange way I‘m lucky that the LPGA has no direct dealings with Donald Trump or Donald Trump properties,” he said.
”Like any group we have people who are political in favour of different sides. I‘m not here to be a politician, I know that what the players want is that I don’t get so political as to limit opportunities for women.
“All I’ve said to the USGA is this, ‘You have long since proven you support women’s golf so if you tell us this is the right place to play then we’re right there with you.'”
Whan took over in 2010 when the LPGA Tour was buckling from the fallout of the U.S. recession and his push for global growth has been a key factor in the circuit’s resurgence.
One look at his business card tells you everything you need to know about his strategy for growing the women’s game -- the word “commissioner” emblazoned in English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese.
Whan said he hoped the global flavour of the Tour’s schedule and sponsorship could help mitigate the effects of another downturn at home.
“In the world of finance we have a pretty diverse portfolio,” he said of a tour which makes stops in China, Japan, Malaysia, Korea and Taiwan in a late season Asian swing.
More than a third of the circuit’s tournaments are sponsored by Asian firms or organizations.
“It used to be that one U.S. economic downturn could really cripple the LPGA,” he added. “I‘m not saying that wouldn’t happen tomorrow, but generally speaking we are pretty well diversified regionally.”
Whan said now that the Tour had been put on a solid footing, with 33 official money events this year compared to 23 in 2011, the task was to boost the dollar value of tournaments rather than add new ones.
”I think we need to be playing for $100 million in purse money,“ he said of future targets. ”I said that back in 2010 and people thought I was nuts, but that was when we were playing for $30 million.
“Now we’re play for $65 million and I think we’ll get there.”
The decision to add a fifth major to the annual tour schedule, the Evian Championship, was met with scorn by traditionalists and those outside the LPGA but Whan said it would be a mistake to be stuck in the past.
“Sports that are unwilling to change because of history and tradition become historic and traditional,” he added. “If we just want golf to be historic and traditional and not move forward, then we would have a real problem.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty