Mike Whan was still the LPGA Tour Commissioner. He was talking to a Pac-12 womans golf coach at an event.
The coach asked him why it was so difficult to recruit an American.
What are you talking to? Whan asked her.
Whan was told by the coach to fly to Scottsdale, Arizona where Team Sweden has a house where 15 of the countrys top 14-year-old players live and train.
In America, I don’t have anyone who can tell me who top 14-year-olds in America and how to get a hold of them, said the coach. Why isnt America as easy as Spain, Korea, or Australia?
Whan is now the CEO and President of the United States Golf Association. He hopes to make a difference. The U.S. Golf Association launched Friday the U.S. National Development Program. This will be the first unified pathway in the country to develop the best junior golfers.
Whan stated that almost every other sport in America has a unified elite program for junior development or a national team program. Golf is the exception. Whan told ESPN. We are the only country that doesn’t have this program for our youth and the only sport in America that doesn’t. It struck me that America is the only major golf country that doesnt have an integrated national program. They had one for Japan. They have one in Canada as well as Mexico.
The USGA has committed to identify and train, develop, finance and support the country’s most promising players. They will compete on one or more national teams with staff members and resources. The USGA stated that there will be an intentional engagement to reach players from underrepresented groups and ensure they have the resources necessary to progress within the sport’s strongest competitive and development opportunities.
Whan stated that he was struck by the fact that many of the best international players were developed on national teams during his 12 years as LPGA Commissioner.
Whan stated, One of the most surprising things I saw after a few years was realizing all the women on that tour came from a country program other than the Americans. I spoke to Carlota CigandaAbout Team Spain. I spoke to Lydia KoAbout Team New Zealand. It was amazing to see Lydia as part of Team New Zealand at 11 years old. They taught you nutrition, stretching, coaching, nutrition, how to get into Division I schools, and how to work as a caddie. These children were ready to win from a young age. These country programs took care of these children, even if they didnt come a wealthy family.
The U.S. National Development Program will establish a grant program to help junior players with their entry fees, travel, coaching, equipment, and course fees. The program will support 50 junior players in 2023. The USGA hopes to increase the number of participants to 1,000 juniors by 2027.
The USGA will partner with the American Junior Golf Association to make it possible for juniors to move from state-level competitions to USGA championships. In addition, it will work with LPGA Professionals and the PGA of America in order to support them with coaching and player development.
The USGA hopes that it will launch a junior national team by 2024, an amateur national team and regional championships next year, and a young professional team in 2026.
Whan hopes the program can close the gap for junior players in America. Only five of the top 25 and 12 of 50 players in Rolex Womens World Golf Rankings, respectively, are Americans. 23 of the 50 top men in the Official World Golf Rankings, however are all from the U.S.
Whan said, The numbers reflect that, both in mens as well as womens. The slide is dramatic if you look back 20 years at the top 100 players in the World, both men and women. Its because our youth are at a disadvantage in terms of competition.