Whan delivers with 2nd year of Founders Cup

The Founders Walk is a walking path lined with photographs of the 13 founders of the LPGA.

Put a “W” in the win column for LPGA commissioner Mike Whan. His outside-the-box domestic tournament – the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup – will feature a legitimate purse next year, of $1.5 million. This time, players will get paid.

“I’ve said from the beginning, I’m not a status-quo guy,” Whan told Golfweek. “I like to try something different.”

Whan calls it Founders Cup 2.0. The event will be back at the Wildfire Gold Club in Phoenix on March 15-18 and feature four rounds rather than three. Like this year, $500,000 will go toward LPGA-USGA Girls Golf.

The money raised from this year’s event added 40 new Girls Golf sites in 2011, bringing in 1,500 new members. The LPGA projects $375,000 in grants will go toward Girls Golf sites across the country.

In 2012, players no longer will designate their earnings from a mock purse to a charity of their choice. Instead, charity efforts will focus solely on the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf initiative.

Whan said he’s proud of the fact that this event started with players playing for nothing, the entire field “paying it forward” in an effort to grow the game.

“We sent a pretty cool corporate message,” he said.

In addition to honoring its tour founders, the LPGA plans to pay tribute to key pioneers of the women’s game. Next year’s fab foursome: Mickey Wright, Betsy Rawls, Peggy Kirk Bell and Barbara Romack.

Watching LPGA founder Shirley Spork, 84, play alongside Whan at the pro-am in March was one of the year’s highlights. Three founders were on site in Phoenix: Louise Suggs, Marilynn Smith and Spork.

Whan’s innovate thinking has resulted in a new title sponsor for the tour and a full-field domestic event that hopefully will endure for decades.

The Founders Cup started off shakily with its “mock purse,” but Whan listened to players and made key changes, ultimately bringing the tour back to a key market.

Hopefully, there’s more to come.

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