Suzy Whaley has been piling up the “firsts” for nearly two decades.
The first of the firsts for the golfing pioneer came in 2002 when she became the first female
to win a PGA of America individual event, capturing the Connecticut Section PGA to
qualify for the PGA Tour’s Greater Hartford Open. It was the first time a woman advanced
to a PGA Tour event since the legendary Babe Zaharias competed in the Los Angeles Open
in 1945. The only other women to play in a PGA Tour tournament are Hall of Fame
member Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie and Brittany Lincicome, but they all received
“The reason I played (in the GHO) was I had something to show my daughters and to show
women around the world that I had earned the right,” said Whaley, the pro at Blue Fox Run
Golf Course in Avon at the time. “I qualified under the rules of the game, deserved to be
there and was going to work really hard to do the best I possibly could.”
Whaley missed the cut (she beat three men), but that was irrelevant.
“I just wanted to show women that anything is possible through hard work and
determination,” she said. “I wasn’t going to be afraid of failing. I was going to do absolutely
the best I could and share that with my daughters for the rest of my life. … It was an
incredible week that I would never trade. And the 75 that I shot in the first round after
making double bogey on the first hole when I three-putted from four feet was the best
round of golf that I’ve ever played.”
Whaley’s GHO appearance came about two months after Sorenstam played in the Colonial.
The World Golf Hall of Fame member acknowledged that if Whaley hadn’t qualified for the
GHO, she likely wouldn’t have accepted the sponsors’ exemption from the Colonial.
“I had thought about playing in a PGA Tour while watching Tiger (Woods) and other guys
on TV, but that usually lasted about 10 seconds,” Sorenstam said in a teleconference before
her Colonial start. “But Suzy earning her spot by winning (the Connecticut Section
tournament) got me thinking about it more.”
It also proved quite lucrative as far as endorsements, exposure and popularity.
When asked what she thought was the biggest offshoot of her GHO appearance, Whaley
said, “Women were on the covers of golf publications for the first time in 2003. It was an
honor to be part of a group of women that brought enhanced attention to the women’s
Qualifying for the GHO led to Whaley becoming the first – and still only – woman to play
in the Julius Boros Challenge Cup Matches, pitting the top 14 Section players and 14
Connecticut State Golf Association players. Whaley and Section president Ian Marshall were
new captain Ralph Salito’s two picks this year and won seven of nine points, but the
amateurs ended a six-year losing streak with a 36.5-26.5 victory in the Nassau-style
competition at New Haven Country Club.
Then in 2014, Whaley earned more international recognition when she became the first
female and first member of the Connecticut Section PGA to be elected an official in the
PGA of America, earning the honor on the first ballot, a rarity. She previously served locally
and then nationally on committees and on the national board.
“It was a great honor and I was humbled to be the first woman in a PGA executive
position,” said Whaley, 51, the Director of Instruction of Suzy Whaley Golf in Cromwell
and a board member and advisor for several organizations, including Golfer Girl Magazine.
“I would have been proud just to have put my name in there. It made a statement that it was
OK to try. We need to take chances; we need different perspectives in the room. We need
more women in leadership roles. I want the game to be more diverse and inclusive.
“My hope is that I have shown other people to step up and try to make a difference. If I can
talk to them or give them a push, then so I will, to try to open other career doors and
opportunities. I am committed to the mission and strategy we have in place at the PGA,
which is to grow the game and serve the members. In that light, my career has been about
getting all on course, welcoming them and changing lives through a sport I love that has
given me so much.
“Running (for office) was an extension to that because it gave me an opportunity to have a
voice in the industry to effect change and to continue the great work our 29,000 members
across the country do daily by providing them the resources they need to strive for
A year ago, Whaley received a sponsors’ exemption to play in the first Senior LPGA
Championship at the French Lick Resort in French Lick, Ind. She tied for 55 th while
competing against a field that included World Golf Hall of Fame members Laura Davies,
Patty Sheehan, Hollis Stacy, Betsy King and Pat Bradley, along with 19 other LPGA Tour
Whaley got lots of air time in the final round of the PGA Championship at Bellerive CC in
St. Louis when she announced the players on the first tee. But Whaley’s coup de grace will
come on Nov. 9, when she will be inducted as the first female president of the PGA of
America at the organization’s annual meeting in Palm Desert, Calif.
Whaley said she has several major objectives once she is sworn in as president of the world’s
largest working sports organization, which conducts such championship at the PGA, Ryder
Cup, Senior PGA and KPMG Women’s PGA.
“We will continue to work towards our strategic mission of serving the membership and
growing the game,” Whaley said. “As a team, we will strive to offer enhanced services to all
PGA professionals that includes playing opportunities, education, enhanced employment
services, player development programming to grow the game, world-class championships
and an association and game that looks more like the communities where we all live.
“Growing the game is a priority, and our members are the tangible connection between
those who play or want to play and the facilities where we work. To that end, we have an
incredible opportunity to welcome so many of our sport and offer great value to all that
want to play the game.”
Whaley, who played on the LPGA Tour in 1990 and 1993, will take the PGA of America’s
highest office six months after she became only the ninth woman to obtain PGA Masters
Professional certification, the highest educational honor a PGA member can achieve.
“I am very proud of that accomplishment, and I hope to inspire other PGA professionals to
continue their lifelong learning and to provide them opportunities to grow in their careers,”
In June, Whaley qualified for the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at historic Chicago
Golf Club, missing the cut by a shot. Besides her historic victory in the Connecticut PGA
Championship, Whaley is a three-time Connecticut Women’s Open champion, two-time
LPGA Northeast T&CP Section titlist and winner of the National LPGA T&CP
Championship and Connecticut Section PGA Club Professional Championship. And in
2002 and 2005, she competed in the men’s PGA Professional National Championship.
The Connecticut Section recognized Whaley as its Teacher of the Year in 2004 and 2007 and
was its Bill Strausbaugh Award recipient in 2003. Other notable accolades include 2013 U.S.
Kids Master Top 10 Instructors, 2012 LPGA National Nancy Lopez Achievement Award,
2010-13 Golf Digest Top 5 Female Teacher, 2010-13 U.S. Kids Top 50 Teachers, 2008-13
LPGA Top 50 Instructor, 2007-13 PGA Top Instructor Honors in Connecticut by Golf
Digest, 2008 and 2011 LPGA T&CP Northeast Section Teacher of the Year, 2003 Gold Key
recipient from the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance and 2003 Role Model of the Year for
the Connecticut Girl Scouts Association.
A member of the Board of Directors of The First Tee of Connecticut, Whaley has also been
an Executive Women’s Golf Association Foundation Board member, as well as an education
presenter at the National Golf Course Owners Association 20/20 Conference for the
Sections of the PGA and LPGA. She is a volunteer assistant golf coach for both the
Quinnipiac University women’s golf team and the Farmington High School girls golf team.
She has hosted LPGA USGA Girls Golf Club events for more than 1,000 girls, participated
in the PE2Tee Golf in School programs in 44 schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts and
is a shoo-in for the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame.
Whaley is a LPGA Teaching and Club Professional member who has received numerous
teaching awards and is currently recognized by Golf for Women as a top 50 female
instructor. She also is a board member and advisor for several organizations, including
Golfer Girl Magazine, and two of her pupils have been daughters Jenn and Kelly. Jenn was
captain of the Quinnipiac University women’s golf team and now plays “corporate golf”
while working for Aetna Insurance Co. in Hartford and serving as an assistant coach of her
alma mater. Kelly has won several collegiate and state titles as she begins her senior year at
the University of North Carolina, her mother’s alma mater. The wins include the Hartford
Women’s Open in June, when she shot a women’s course-record, 5-under-par 65 in the final
round at Keney Park Golf Course in Hartford.
It’s all part of Suzy’s non-stop effort to better golf and improve the representation of
women in the game. And to think that Whaley dreamed of being an Olympic skier while
growing up in Syracuse, N.Y. Then one day when she was 9, she was in the swimming pool
at her family’s club when some boys decided to go hit golf balls. She decided to join them –
in her swimsuit.
“My mom came up like a whirlwind in a golf cart because the pro said there was a dress
code and I was not in proper attire,” Whaley recalled with her customary infectious smile.
“I’ve always looked at that as a teaching moment that probably changed the course of my
life because my mother had two options. She could yell at me for going against the dress
code or she could do what she did: she drove up and said, ‘Do you like this?’ I said, ‘I love
it.’ She said, ‘Quick, let’s go buy you an outfit.’ I bought an outfit and wanted to play the
game with my parents every second. From that moment on, I was a range rat.”
Despite qualifying for the 1986 U.S. Women’s Open while in high school, Whaley still
harbored dreams of being a skier. She went off to college in Boulder, Colo., but
transferred to the UNC, where she was on the golf team for four years. The plan was
to go to law school, but she decided to try LPGA Tour qualifying school. Whaley
earned an LPGA Tour card and played briefly, but the birth of her two daughters led
to a life as a teaching professional. She says her favorite golf memory is when her
daughters Kelly and Jenn were about 6 and 9 years old.
“They were carrying their own little golf bags and we went out and played nine holes,”
Whaley said. “To watch my daughters walk down the fairway, I was teary. To know
they would have golf for life made me feel good.”
Whaley feels as good as ever despite the most hectic travel schedule of her life that has
included the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, PGA Professional Championship, KPMG
Women’s PGA Championship, British Open and PGA Championship.
“I don’t bother to unpack. But these go with me everywhere,” she said, patting her
clubs. “I play a lot of golf. I just love the game.”
Completing the First Family of Connecticut Golf is Bill Whaley, a PGA Quarter
Century member who played on the PGA, Australian and Asian tours and is now the
National Director of Golf for PGA Tour Properties and former general manager at
TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, site of the Travelers Championship. He and their
daughters have been the most important entities for Suzy.
“My biggest achievement in my life was marrying my husband of 27 years and being
blessed with two amazing children,” Whaley said. “My biggest achievement in golf was
playing and competing in a PGA Tour event. While I am humbled and proud of my
accomplishments, the opportunity to play and compete against the best male players in
the world was certainly the most outside of my comfort zone.
“That experience gave me the confidence and the platform for so many other
opportunities. It proved to me that with determination, support and passion, anything
is within reach.”
One of Whaley’s fondest GHO memories was a rather dubious start.
“I have so many great memories, but one of my favorites was the elation I felt after making a
double (bogey) on the first hole,” Whaley said with a smile. “Sounds ridiculous, but when
the ball finally went in, my nerves subsided, and I was able to just play golf from there on in.
Another favorite moment was the fact that Peter Jacobsen, a dear friend, and one of my
biggest supporters on the men’s tour won! We laugh at that because he was so amazing to
me in my journey that golf karma was his that week.
“Finally, walking to the tee on the 10 th hole (her first hole) the second day, holding my
daughters’ hands, they were 6 and 9, is a moment I will always cherish. Because for me, I
wanted them to know that no matter their gender, or the landscape, that they belong and
that no matter the challenge, with hard work, grit, support and joy that they can face it with
their head held high. It wasn’t about the outcome, it was about taking the opportunity. They
may not have understood that then, but they do now, and I am so happy I could share that
moment with them.”
Whaley will be sharing plenty of moments with plenty of dignitaries during her two-year
tenure as PGA of America president. Her reign will end Oct. 25-30, 2020, when she and the
rest of the Connecticut Section PGA will host the national organization’s annual meeting at
the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. Tom Hantke, who is in his 25 th year as
Section executive director, will be a key point man during the meeting after speaking to all 41
executive directors during the national gathering last year.
“One thing is for certain about Suzy ascending to the PGA presidency: She will be
prepared,” said Hantke, who plans to head a local contingent that will be traveling to Palm
Springs for Whaley’s induction. “Everything that I have witnessed about Suzy since she won
the 2002 Connecticut PGA Championship is her commitment to her duty and responsibility
at hand. This stems from her tournament play to her committee involvement to her service
on the Section board and through her candidacy for PGA secretary in 2014. And she’s
proving that now in the vital leadership role she plays for the PGA of America. It’s hard to
find anyone outside of PGA CEO Pete Bavacqua who has better knowledge and command
of the initiatives, programs and strategic plan of the PGA of America.”
Hantke said Whaley is someone who is relevant and grounded and can connect with any
PGA professional and corporate or media representatives alike.
“Suzy’s firsts have been documented so many times,” Hantke said. “The first to win a PGA
Section title, first to be elected a PGA officer, etc. But the first that never seems to resonate
outside as much as it does with the Connecticut Section is she will be the first Connecticut
Section PGA professional to serve as the PGA president. The leaders who have served in
Connecticut take great pride in that fact, and not that she is a woman or a man, but rather as
someone just like then who are committed to advancing the game of golf and elevating the
standing of PGA professionals everywhere.”
Whaley couldn’t agree more.
“For me, golf is my passion,” she said, “and the fact that I could turn my passion into my
career certainly makes me extremely blessed.”
Connecticut is certainly blessed to have Suzy Whaley as a major part of its golfing