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Mollie Marcoux Samaan believes that her biggest growth moments have come when she’s taken risks. 

“Almost anything good in life comes with risk, and comes with an extra amount of work and energy,” she says.

When she worked in management at Chelsea Piers, a sports entertainment complex, she pitched her bosses on building a daycare center there. She was pregnant with her first daughter at the time and knew that suggesting this business idea might appear self-serving since she would benefit.

“I put myself out on the line to say, ‘I think this is a really good business opportunity beyond how it would be really good for me personally, to be able to bring my child to work.’ And it turned out to be a great business and something that grew the organization,” Samaan says.

The LPGA hired Samaan in August 2021 to be its Commissioner, and she says taking the position itself was a risk as it meant moving out of her comfort zone as Ford Family Director of Athletics at Princeton.

“But I knew that my impact could be much bigger by taking a risk … to engage in something that is so meaningful, and a bigger opportunity and platform,” she says.

Opportunities to Grow

She became LPGA Commissioner at an inflection point for both golf and women’s sports, and Marcoux Samaan points to “tremendous opportunities” in the field.

“There’s a tremendous amount of clarity for people around the value of equity, the value of growing women's sports to inspire people all over the world,” she says.

Among the questions she and the organization face are how to properly invest and which risks to take to allow for sustainable growth, both short-term and long-term, given the available resources. First and foremost is giving players opportunities to create careers in golf.

“I think it comes back to if the risk is going to allow us to achieve our values and our mission, then it's a much more palatable risk to take,” Marcoux Samaan says.

The LPGA has experienced growth across the board. In the past 10 years, total prize money grew 90%, according to the LPGA’s 2020 executive summary. The number of tournaments grew from 24 in 2011, with an overall purse size of $41.4 million, to 34 events in 2021, with a total $76.45 million purse size.

It’s not just the professionals, either. More women are playing the sport overall, and the pandemic helped spur its growth. The National Golf Foundation reported in 2020 that women’s golf grew by 8% year-over-year and now comprises nearly 25% of all golfers. That’s the highest number over the last five years.

When Marcoux Samaan thinks about opportunities and directions to take, she breaks it down to three key criteria: values, people and passion. The value of the opportunity needs to match her personal values and the values of the organization. Then it’s important to have the right people both internally and externally to launch the project. Finally, everyone involved needs to have the passion to bring the project to fruition.

“Anything good in life comes with a lot of extra work and a lot of extra passion and really depends on the people who are engaged in the opportunity,” she says.

Golf competes in a crowded sports landscape, but also against other entertainment platforms like video streaming, gaming and even live music. That means new challenges, and also new opportunities for the LPGA.

In this new environment, it’s important to be clear about what makes women’s golf unique, highlight the uniqueness of the sport and players so that sponsors and fans feel a connection. The organization is making those connections. Year-over-year, women’s golf saw an 18% increase in unique viewers of LPGA Tour coverage, a 51% increase in social engagement and a 47% increase in video views, according to the organization’s 2020 summary.

At the same time, Marcoux Samaan explains that organizations like LPGA need to support the players to help them manage the stress that comes from being on the public stage.

“We have to continue to highlight the uniqueness that our athletes present and how we can help golf as a different sport, and how amazing our women are,” she says.

Power to Change Lives

Marcoux Samaan was a top athlete at Princeton, excelling at both hockey and soccer, and she knew from an early age she wanted to play sports and eventually have a career in sports. “Passionate believer in the power of sports” appears on her Twitter bio.

Sports builds leaders and it can build communities, she believes. On an individual level, sports help instill confidence that a person can be successful at a task, and that confidence can influence other parts of the individual’s life. Sports also builds communities around a common goal, whether the community is a school, a town or a country.

“Where else in life do you all come together and cheer for the same thing with great passion and energy and physical support? I always think of those pictures where people are yelling and cheering for other people and coming together for a common goal,” she says.

At a high level, what excites her the most about her new position is being able to use sports as a positive impact and to inspire people globally.

“That's really what gets me up in the morning and makes me super excited about this platform and opportunity that I have,” Marcoux Samaan says.

“I think it comes back to if the risk is going to allow us to achieve our values and our mission, then it's a much more palatable risk to take.”

— Mollie Marcoux Samaan

Managing in a Pandemic

The pandemic made everyone change directions, and it was no different for the LPGA. The organization cancelled a total of 25 tournaments, 19 in 2020 and six in 2021. In addition to cancellations, many season-long points races were put on pause and restarted in 2021. 

Flexibility remains critical when dealing with change. When roadblocks occur, she returns to thinking about the basics of her job, how to serve the people she is tasked to service and revisiting the goals of the organization. It also takes a change of mindset and rethinking the ways things have been done traditionally.

She points to how the LPGA had to change some of its tournaments and fan interactions because of the pandemic, to limit Covid spread. The organization gave extensive health and safety updates and moved its press conferences to virtual availabilities rather than in person.

Covid testing has been a routine part of tournaments, with testing conducted both pre-travel and in-market, and the LPGA and it’s members have had to adapt to the varying protocols in each country where they play.

“You give yourself a very long leeway to be open-minded and creative and passionate, then you'll get it done. But you also can’t do it alone,” says Marcoux Samaan.

That’s where partnerships and teamwork come into play, communicating clearly and getting buy-in from all parties, she adds.

“We have to continue to highlight the uniqueness that our athletes present and how we can help golf as a sport, and show how amazing our women are.”

— Mollie Marcoux Samaan

Power of Partnerships

CME Group’s partnership with the LPGA goes back 14 years. The alliance is critical to keeping the organization running.

“Partnerships are everything for the LPGA. We could not do what we do without a group of people and a group of companies and organizations who see our value, to put it very plainly,” Samaan says.

The season-long Race to the CME Globe is about to wrap up this month in Naples, Florida. The tourney is a points competition where LPGA Tour players accumulate points in every Official LPGA Tournament to gain entry into the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. The winning player takes home $1.5 million, the largest single prize in the history of women’s golf.

The tournament also wraps up the season-long Score 1 for St. Jude program, in which CME Group donates $20,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for every hole-in-one made by LPGA players throughout the season. Since the program started in November 2018, CME Group has donated nearly $2 million to St. Jude.

Having a season-long tournament keeps the excitement going for the athletes, and “the end of the year celebration is an opportunity for us to highlight the tremendous talent that we have,” says Marcoux Samaan.

She adds that the relationship between CME Group and the LPGA endures because of their strong collaboration and similar values and that’s what will help it continue.

“There's huge opportunities for creativity, growth and innovation, because that's the kind of company that CME is, and that's the kind of leaders they have. And that's what we value,” Marcoux Samaan says. “It'll be my first CME Group Tour Championship. And I've heard nothing but energy, passion and excitement for the event.”

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