LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan was energetic and enthusiastic when speaking about the inaugural International Crown with media in the tournament’s press room on Sunday, and for good reason.
A compelling Saturday sudden-death playoff between No. 1 United States and the second-seeded Republic of Korea created must-see TV, and Spain was dominant in Sunday singles to take the title ahead of Sweden. Crowds at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md., were solid all week, and the golf world was abuzz with chatter around the world about the one-of-a-kind event.
The 32 players relished the opportunity to compete in the groundbreaking event, and country pride was on display in a big way all week. For those reasons and more, Whan was optimistic and bullish about the event’s success in its inaugural year.
“It’s been great, and it’s only going to get bigger from here,” Whan said. “The Golf Channel treated it like a major event from the very beginning, and we’ve tried to treat it and fund it like a major event. I think it’s certainly had a major-event vibe to me.”
Whan said he and his staff had one major goal when planning the International Crown, and he was pleased by how it progressed from concept to execution.
“Our one driving principle was, ‘Let’s do something different. Let’s try to give the game of golf truly something different,’” Whan said. “It’s building roots much faster than we thought.”
One of the big topics of discussion was the failure of the United States’ quartet to advance to Sunday’s singles matches and the impact, perhaps negative, that may have had on attendance and television ratings. Whan doesn’t subscribe to the notion that the event was lessened by the lack of the U.S. team on Sunday.
“I was hoping for a U.S.-Korea playoff some year, and I got it yesterday,” he said. “Must-see TV in women’s golf right now is U.S. versus Korea in sudden death, and we got it. Would it be better for an event played in America for America to be there (on Sunday)? Of course it would, but I’ve never believed 2014 was going to define the International Crown.”
He believes the U.S.-Republic of Korea playoff gave the Tour something special on Saturday.
“I think it was one of the best Saturdays in LPGA history,” Whan said. “Would I like there to be an American-Korean playoff on Sunday? Sure. I really don’t think that lessened the effect. I think it ratchets it up a notch.
“I’ll take one of the greatest Saturdays in LPGA history, and we’ll build on that.”
Whan said that the format would not be changed just to accommodate one team or the event’s top seed.
“I have a hard time saying I’m going to critique the format so a country or two finds their way to Sunday,” he said. “If you’re going to make it to Sunday here, you’re going to have to make it through Saturday. If you’re going to make it where a team can’t be eliminated, it takes out 75 percent of the drama.
“What makes it interesting and compelling is that the players knew yesterday standing on the 16th tee that, ‘A couple of us aren’t going to be back here tomorrow.’ I think that’s what makes it great.”
Whan did say that one change that likely will be coming is countries and teams will be announced closer to when the event is played.
“We’ll probably wait a little bit longer (to announce) countries and players, but I don’t feel comfortable we could have done that the first year,” he said. “I think we could qualify players later and probably can continue to move that date back with each playing of the Crown as this becomes something that (players feel) they’ve got to do and something they love.”
Whan was highly complimentary when talking about the Caves Valley Golf Club and its staff.
“The course has been unbelievable, and I’d like to see us play whatever they want us to play here,” he said. “I think this course could hold anything on the LPGA schedule. Not only is the course well-done, but there’s room to put everybody and you’re not shuttling people 15 miles from here.
“The other thing is about the staff and the volunteers here. Even the guys who were raking the bunkers were the nicest kids I’ve ever met in my life. Everybody is just so friendly and engaging, and it just feels like a club that’s done this 100 times.”
Some big news that came out of Whan’s media session was his confirmation that the International Crown is close to announcing a title sponsor through 2020. He wouldn’t say who the sponsor was, but made it seem like it was a big-name company or corporation.
Whan also said the event could travel outside the United States as early as 2018 and that the site for that year would likely be announced by the end of the year. The 2016 event, he said, will be played roughly a month before the Olympic Summer Games, and it has been previously announced that the site will be 2009 Solheim Cup host Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., outside Chicago.
Whan made it no secret where the first international staging of the event will be.
“I can honestly tell you that, the first time this thing travels outside the States, it’s likely going to be in Asia,” he said. “If you’ve already traveled to Asia with us, you already know the answer as to why. I want to make sure these countries get their own homecoming and their own home-crowd event.”
He was happy to be able to stage the first International Crown in 2014, as it can now alternate years with the immensely popular Solheim Cup and will coincide with the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.
“To start it the same year as the Olympics might have been strange,” Whan said. “Now, with us playing this a month before the Olympics, it’s only going to create more countries’ interest, pride and excitement. I’ve talked to the International Golf Federation about that, and they agree.”
Whan said establishing the event as a new and major player in the golf world is a goal the International Crown accomplished with fervor last week.
“I think 2014 was about building something of significance in the game, and I don’t know any player or caddie I’ve talked to this week that doesn’t believe this is going to be one of the showcase events in women’s golf,” he said. “That’s all we were really trying to do. We wanted to build another event where everybody pays attention to what’s going on in the women’s game.
“I really believe we’re on to something people will circle on their calendars.”