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Why USGA CEO Mike Whan is the right leader during this difficult time

Our main goal, here at GOLF Originals, is to bring interesting people to you, dear viewer, without sitting our subject in a clubhouse Windsor chair on a tartan carpet with a framed poster of the original 1745 Rules of Golf on the nearby wall. With those ground rules in place, we brought David Feherty, golf broadcasting legend, to Psychic Eye Bookstore in Las Vegas for our first edition of March. It's a good time. We visited a large sand pit in South Florida, a course under construction called Sandglass, with Tom Doak, a brilliant course builder, for our April program. It's exciting! And now, on our May edition, and just in time for US Open I (women) and US Open II (men), comes Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA. My partner Darren Riehl, the series producer, and I joined Whan at a nine-hole, mom-and-pop golf course called Palm Valley, about 10 miles or so from TPC Sawgrass. Whan loved it. He was at home, chatting with the course's owner, Chris Hord, and his random playing partner, a retired teacher named Louise.

The distance between PVGC and the Stadium Course is greater than 10 miles, using a sextant with a symbolic bias. Weekday green fees in Palm Valley are $18. The course is 1,500 yards, all extended. A bad piece can hit a horse. And Mike Whan had a great time.

That's really the man in a nutshell, and why this show was so fun to do with him. The USGA CEO loves playing golf, being on golf courses, talking to golfers. Whan can play any course he wants, hobnob with any course owner he wants, play with anyone he chooses. Palm Valley courses suited him well and then some. But at the heart of the man is a public course golfer who chooses a sleeve off the rack that comes with a bonus fourth ball.

Wherever he goes in this game, Mike Whan will have a great time.

Darren Riehl/GOLF Originals

Whan is a good golfer (can break 80) and athletic (played football in high school and college). But as he pushed another shot into PVGC's foul pool, he said, “I'm going to stop at the store at 6 to buy some more balls.” The USGA boss doesn't take himself too seriously! This is an outstanding development.

Wherever he goes in this game, Whan will have a great time. And isn't that why we're drawn to this game in the first place, to have a good time, despite our misery?

In this episode, you'll see (we think) why Whan is the right person to lead the USGA in this extraordinary time in golf, where participation numbers are so high (measurable) and overwhelming for men's elite golf. you're on top, too. (Ask anyone.) Whan, as commissioner of the LPGA, helped make the women's tour global, with the world's best female golfers playing more often and for more money at better courses. Whan and his wife, Meg, have three sons, and Whan likes to play golf with them. But in her professional life, she has one and a half eyes on the women's game. What Meg and Mike Whan miss most about their LPGA days was the front row seat they had for every Solheim Cup match.

The issues facing the USGA, and golf in general, are serious. Water conservation. Earth conservation. It's a game that grapples with the important questions of how far a golf ball should fly and how an inherently complex game can simplify its rules. Also: What constitutes a circle? And, while we're at it, what makes golf? Whan is one of the most important golfers in the game's crosshairs.

Whan is a man of strong opinions, and smart enough to know when he needs to keep those opinions to himself. What you will see here is a golf leader who believes in listening, in harmony, to the best of golf.

It is possible that Louise, our route finder at PVGC, did not give us the full Will-Robinson warning about the hidden dangers of water. Whan registered no complaint. Why? You know how much you have.

Years ago, he and his father were driving to Augusta National, turning off Washington Road onto the club's famous road, Magnolia Lane. Whan was a 'bunker boy' as a kid, grinding and pulling out Ohio sand traps on hot summer days. His introduction to the game. The father did not fully understand how far his son had come.

“Mike,” she said, “what are you doing!?”

Mike Whan didn't take that moment, that clicking turn signal, for granted. We're glad he's where he is, in the game and in our series.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

Michael Bamberger

Michael Bamberger Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and Prior to that, he spent nearly 23 years as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first at (Martha's) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety of books on golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in numerous Best American Sports Writing awards. He holds the US patent on the E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was awarded the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization's highest honor.

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