DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A dry board in the office of LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan is filled with black and blue, an appropriate color scheme for a tour that had been taking its lumps the past couple of years.
The colors are used for the schedule — blue ink for those that are a work in progress, black for the done deals.
The board is mostly black these days.
A new LPGA season gets under way this week at Royal Melbourne with the Women’s Australian Open, one of four additional tournaments on the 2012 schedule that have helped nudge momentum in a favorable direction.
“It’s a blip if we have a nice ramp-up and then fall back down,” said Whan, who is starting his third full year as commissioner. “It took a year to take us from negative momentum to positive momentum, and the next year to turn that positive momentum into success.”
He measures success by a 39 percent increase in TV viewers in the United States, and by 26 percent overall. Though his predecessor, Carolyn Bivens, had a reputation of alienating sponsors with a hardline approach, the LPGA has been able to renew eight of the nine tournament contracts that ended in 2011.
It lost one tournament and added five others, including player favorites in Kingsmill, Va., and Toledo, Ohio. It also renewed 10 of its 11 marketing agreements.
So where was the big swing in momentum?
“If there was one, I missed it,” Whan said. “I couldn’t tell you that I got on a plane one day and said, ‘Today we crossed the bridge.’ It’s like any small business. If you want to turn your business around, it starts with your customers. Everybody we’ve added either came through or had dialogue with existing customers.
“If we want more customers, it’s not because we’re focusing on customers we don’t have. It’s going to be focusing on customers we do have. Because everybody who signs a long-term deal is going to talk to three of our customers.”
Behind any business model are the players. Whan is not lacking in that department.
Six months into his job, Lorena Ochoa walked away from golf without warning to concentrate on her new family and burgeoning foundation. Her slot was taken by a veritable star in Yani Tseng, the 23-year-old from Taiwan who last year became the youngest golfer to reach five majors.
“I didn’t think I’d win a major. Then, I didn’t think I’d win a second major. Now it’s five,” Tseng said. “It’s just crazy.”
She won seven times on the LPGA Tour last year – 12 titles around the world – and captured the LPGA player of the year honor for the second year in a row.
Stacy Lewis was the lone American to win a major, at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Cristie Kerr had a peculiar season in which she failed to win on the LPGA Tour but still wound up second on the money list with nine finishes in the top five.
Paula Creamer remains among the most popular LPGA players and hopes to rebound from nagging injury. The freshest face on tour is Alexis Thompson, who last year at 16 became the youngest winner of an LPGA event.
Still in the mix is Michelle Wie, who has been spending part of her time on tour and part of her time at Stanford, where she is expected to graduate this year before devoting more attention to the LPGA.