BROOKLINE, Mass. – There was a line in Tiger Woods’ World Golf Hall of Fame induction speech that resonated deeply with Mike Whan.
The CEO of the US Golf Association was already launching a US development program when Woods told the world about a kitchen table meeting where he learned his parents they were running out of the funds needed to keep him in world-class golf. clue.
Woods said he was lucky his father Earl decided to take out a second mortgage on his house. Otherwise, they would have had to come up with a Plan B.
“I had this conversation with Tiger on Jupiter in February,” Whan said during a pre-tournament press conference ahead of the 2022 US Open, “which is, we have to make sure that the next conversation in the kitchen, there isn’t a Plan B. There is a Plan A and we will be part of that Plan A.
“We’re going to create a major grant program to help the Tiger Woods of the future and anyone else in this space. If you have the interest, the game and the passion for it, we will keep them in the game.”
That significant grant money, Whan said, will be “in the neighborhood” of $40 million. He hired Heather Daly Donofrio as General Manager of the new American men’s and women’s development team. Two-time LPGA winner Daly Donofrio most recently served as the LPGA’s Director of Tour Operations.
Whan isn’t sure of the timeline for when the show might officially launch, saying it could be in a matter of weeks or years, depending on how quickly things come together. Right now, they are looking for 12-17 year olds, though the program could extend beyond that, as it does in many countries that continue to support players as they transition to professional careers.
“As a commissioner of the LPGA for 12 years, I was struck by the fact that almost every woman playing on that tour came from a country show,” Whan said, “unless they came from the United States, where you don’t come from a country show. country program.
Perhaps no one in the country is smiling more widely than Myra Blackwelder, who won LPGA Rookie of the Year honors in 1980. At the 2009 Solheim Cup in Illinois, Blackwelder, then head coach at Kentucky, spoke about the need for a national program during a meeting of LPGA ambassadors.
After the meeting, the late Shirley Spork, one of the LPGA’s 13 founders, approached Blackwelder and said, “I’m too old to do this project with you. You have to promise me you won’t quit until this is done.”
Blackwelder gave his word and worked tirelessly to try and launch a concept he called America’s Golf Team, his response to the golf federations he had studied around the world that produced well-prepared junior and college players. Blackwelder submitted his program to the American Development Model, a US Olympic program designed to increase the number of high-performance athletes.
USA Golf never took action on the idea, and when Whan took over the USGA, Blackwelder felt confident that something would eventually be done.
With the rest of the world getting so much support, American golfers, particularly women, couldn’t keep up.
“Our girls had to rely on what mom and dad could do for them,” said Blackwelder, whose daughter Mallory also played professionally.
When Blackwelder was a rookie on the LPGA, she made 28 of 32 cuts and had five top-10 finishes. She made approximately $41,000 and lost money on the season. That was despite occasionally stopping to sleep in her truck, which isn’t an option these days.
Even now, players who barely make the cut at an LPGA event with a $1.5 million purse lose money during the week.
Financial hurdles continue to plague American players at all levels of the game.
Whan said he has been overwhelmed by the positive response he has received in discussing a national program with those in a position to help. Most agree that it is long overdue.
“We really believe that the role of the USGA is to build a US Development Program to make sure that the portfolio of US golfers here is not about where you grew up,” Whan said, “or how much money your mom or dad wins, or which country club sponsored you. It’s about whether or not you have the talent, interest and dedication to be a part of a Team USA program.”
Myra and Mallory started a new toddler golf class a few weeks ago. Now there is hope that if Mallory’s 3-year-old daughter, Madeleine, decides to follow in her footsteps, many of the obstacles that held back previous generations will be in the past.