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Golf world without Woods gets Michelle Wie

By Dan O'Neill -- Everyone, golf fan or not, is aware of the tabloid troubles surrounding Tiger Woods, infidelity issues that have led the world's No. 1 player taking an indefinite leave of absence.

At the same time, a few weeks earlier, Michelle Wie made entirely different kinds of headlines' finally fulfilling expectations by winning her first LPGA tournament.

It would seem those two developments are completely unrelated. Or are they?

For the LPGA, they might go hand in hand, combining to form a perfect storm. The early-season absence of the men's top draw and the emergence of the female version of the same could be one of several dramatic developments that promise to make 2010 a kinder, gentler environment for the League of Extraordinary Women. After LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens was ousted last summer, the LPGA took its time and performed due diligence before naming Michael Whan as its new commissioner in October. Whan appears to have the tools for repairing strained relationships and embracing new ones.

He began his professional career at Procter & Gamble in 1987, went to Wilson Sporting Goods in 1994, TaylorMade Golf in 1996, Britesmile Inc. in 1999 and Mission Itech Hockey in 2002. He has been in the corporate board rooms and the sports arenas. He is approachable, enthusiastic and optimistic. He will change the cultural.

I have a personal philosophy about leadership that maybe not everybody understands, so I'll just say it this simply, Whan said. I believe in listen, learn and lead, and you do it in that order.

Whan has his work cut out as the LPGA launches it's 60th and perhaps most pivotal season. The organization was riddled by internal layoffs in '09. The new commissioner inherited a ship that was listing low in morale and high in anxiety. To reboot the hard drive, he must re-define the brand and re-establish the business model.

The 2010 schedule announced in November included 24 events, down from 27 in 2009 and further down from 34 in 2008. Some of the tournaments acting commissioner Marty Evans and Whan were able to lure back are returning at discounted prices. The financial climate remains ominous.

But the hopes and dreams of Whan's regime got a booster shot in November when Wie eight years after her first LPGA appearance captured the Lorena Ochoa Invitational for her first professional win. Nothing could be better for the girls of golf.

The final round of Wie's victory drew the second highest numbers for any LPGA telecast on any cable network, second only to the third round of the Solheim Cup which, not by coincidence, also involved Wie playing well.

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 Golf world without Woods gets Michelle Wie 
Michelle Wie watches her tee-shot off the first hole during first round action of the LPGA Tour Championship, Nov. 2009. (dpa)

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