Who is Mollie Marcoux Samaan and what does she have planned for the LPGA?
Mollie Marcoux Samaan, a self-described lifelong LPGA super fan, will be the tour’s ninth commissioner. Tuesday, Marcoux Samaan’s unanimous selection by the LPGA board of directors was announced. She’ll spend the next few months preparing to take over for Mike Whan, who after 11 years with the LPGA, will take the helm at the USGA later this summer.
During a Zoom call following the announcement, Marcoux Samaan was introduced to the golf media and she was quick to make her prowess and passion for the game known. She began playing at age 11 and reminisced about the summer days that she spent at Newman Golf Course in Ithaca, New York, where her parents would drop her off in the morning and she might play 36 holes a day.
During her opening remarks, she gushed about meeting Juli Inkster, a current member of the board of directors, during the interview process.
“I will say that I am, and have been for a long time, a super fangirl of Juli’s, so it was particularly fun to meet her on the first day,” Marcoux Samaan said. “I ran downstairs and told my husband that I met Juli Inkster on this call and I look forward to continuing to be pals along the way here.”
Marcoux Samaan’s sense of humor and honesty feel similar to Whan, who established a culture at the LPGA that is more like family than a workplace. The outgoing commissioner has been transparent with staff and members alike, while also fostering an entrepreneurial spirit among the staff. Finding the right fit, culturally, to replace Whan was undoubtedly important, if not priority No. 1. Based on initial impression, Marcoux Samaan looks poised to continue Whan’s style of leadership.
“She’s honest and transparent,” Alena Sharp, who was one of four members of the LPGA Tour that was a part of the selection committee, told GolfChannel.com. “If she doesn’t know the answer to a question or problem, she tells you and then works tirelessly to find an answer or solution.”
Marcoux Samaan faces a different challenge than the one that Whan faced when he joined the LPGA in 2010. Whan’s marching orders were clear when he was brought in to resuscitate a struggling tour. It needed more tournaments and more prize money. Whan not only brought the tour back to life, but nurtured the growth of the other arms of the organization – the LPGA professionals, the Amateur Golf Association, LPGA*USGA Girls Golf and the Women’s Network. He also saw the creation of a partnership with the Ladies European Tour and a strategic alliance with the PGA Tour.
How does the LPGA build on Whan’s success? And what does that look like?
Marcoux Samaan, a mother of three, has an opportunity to shape the organization’s future by capitalizing on the work done during Whan’s tenure. She can push the LPGA to the next level, a level that has never been seen in the organization’s 70-year history.
“Mollie will be a great next leader to continue on what Mike Whan has developed,” said Sharp. “I think she will raise our brand awareness and probe further areas where the LPGA needs to be better.”
Tuesday, Inkster echoed Sharp’s confidence that Marcoux Samaan’s vision is in line with the LPGA’s members.
“I know this is probably not the greatest term, but she’s a jock and she loves sports and I love sports, and I think you have to be that way to really dive in,” Inkster said. “She’s been AD for a huge athletic department, and she’s been in a man’s world. She knows the golfing world and she knows how to play with them, be nice and collaborate and bring the LPGA forward. “
When Marcoux Samaan was pressed on what her vision entailed, she highlighted four key areas – purses, partners, global growth and exposure. Outlining a strategic vision, she says, will be her top priority.
“I think the only way you can actually form a strategy is to hear from all the stakeholders – it’s a very complex organization, and to sort of understand the landscape and then try to simplify that into the core values and the core strategy,” said Marcoux Samaan. “That’s what I love doing.”
While Marcoux Samaan is quite familiar with the LPGA from the outside, she’s definitely not an insider to professional golf.
Marcoux Samaan joins the LPGA from Princeton University, her alma mater from which she graduated in 1991. She was a two-sport athlete who played both soccer and ice hockey and she wrote her senior thesis – over 100 pages – on the history of women in golf and how it mirrored society. Marcoux Samaan spent the past seven years as Princeton’s athletic director, and to much success. Of the school’s 37 varsity teams, 27 have won at least one league championship since she became director. Prior to her most recent stint at Princeton, she spent 19 years with Chelsea Piers Management, which is perhaps best known for operating Manhattan’s only year-round, four-tiered driving range.
Sharp said that Marcoux Samaan was one of more than 200 candidates considered for the position. She added that Marcoux Samaan was one of the top candidates during the first round of interviews and upon advancing to the second round, was directed more specific questions based on the candidate. Sharp says that Marcoux Samaan was a standout upon advancing to the third stage of the interview process, which was held in person with the committee.
“Her boardroom presence was knowledgeable, calm, confident, compassionate – simply unflappable,” Sharp said about meeting Marcoux Samaan. “She brings about a great presence when she enters a room which will be very crucial for our current, potential sponsors and other stakeholders.”
Whan put the check writers first and the strategy worked. When it comes to working with sponsors, potential and existing, Marcoux Samaan says it’s all about building relationships. She’ll lean on her time at Princeton, in which she did quite a bit of fundraising for the athletic department and coordinated with a variety of sponsors during her nearly two decades with Chelsea Piers.
“At this moment, what could be better than sponsoring the LPGA?” said Marcoux Samaan about the growing push for women’s equality in sport. “We’re all working towards providing the most diverse and inclusive environments within our companies and [to] be able to use the LPGA as a platform, and commitment to that equity, I think is a huge opportunity.”
The commissioner search began in earnest on Feb. 1 with the assistance of Spencer Stuart, a consulting firm that assisted the LPGA with the hiring process. Sharp says that the firm found Marcoux Samaan during the search.
There isn’t an exact date yet for when Marcoux Samaan will take over for Whan, but she says she’ll be ready by the end of summer. She plans to attend the fan-crazed Solheim Cup in September.
It’s a perfect event for the self-declared super fan to officially begin her tenure at the LPGA.