U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S OPEN
Pioneering Suzy Whaley Fittingly Part of Historic Week
July 10, 2018 | WHEATON, ILL.
By Ron Sirak
Suzy Whaley knows what it’s like to be a pioneer and she was not about to miss the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at historic Chicago Golf Club. In 2003, she became the first woman to qualify for a PGA Tour event in 58 years; in 2014, she was made the first female officer of the PGA of America and later this year will become the first woman to serve as the organization’s president.
Along the way, Whaley earned her way onto the LPGA, worked as a teaching pro and raised two daughters who played college golf. What she has never done is stop fighting for the betterment of golf and for full representation of women in the game. The U.S. Senior Women’s Open is a culmination of one of her dreams.
“This is something we all thought we would never see,” Whaley, 51, said Tuesday while warming up for a practice round. “This is about showing respect for the players who came before us and about establishing a championship for the players who are on the LPGA right now. And it’s about competing. That’s why we are here. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”
Growing up in Syracuse, N.Y., a part of the country very familiar with snow, Whaley dreamed of being an Olympic skier. And then one day when she was 9 she was in the swimming pool at her family’s club when some of the boys decided to go hit golf balls and she decided to join them – in her swimsuit.
“My mom was called and told I was not in the proper attire,” Whaley said. “She asked me if I liked it and when I said I did she got me a little golf outfit. 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 University of North Carolina 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 instead.
“My parents were always supportive of whatever I wanted to do,” Whaley said. “We were a family that had no barriers. My Mom and Dad wanted us to love what we were doing. Now, my husband [Bill], my children, my golf are my passions.”
Whaley earned an LPGA Tour card and played briefly, but two daughters led her 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 9 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.”
Having that memory stand out says a lot about Whaley, given all that she has accomplished. In 2002, she won the Connecticut PGA Championship, which got her into the 2003 Greater Hartford Open, making her the first woman since Babe Zaharias to play her way into a PGA Tour event. Whaley was the first woman to win a PGA individual event.
Because of a hectic travel schedule for work – she is fitting the U.S. Senior Women’s Open into a run that includes the PGA Professional Championship, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the Open Championship at Carnoustie and the PGA Championship – summer is a difficult time for her to compete, although she still finds time to play.
“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.”
She played as a marker during the Women’s PGA at Kemper Lakes and got a taste of competition. “I played 14 great holes, but I made a triple and a couple of doubles because I was hurrying, trying not to hold up the competitor,” she said.
Whaley qualified for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco because she was in the area for the PGA Professional Championship at Bayonet and Black Horse Golf Course just down the coast. She shot 73 to comfortably earn one of the five available spots. “I pulled my own trolley and did my own yardages,” she said. “I think it helped.”
Bill is not with Suzy this week because Kelly, who will be a senior at North Carolina in the fall, is competing in the North & South Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst. Jenn, who played college golf at Quinnipiac, now works for Aetna and “has learned the joys of corporate golf,” her mother said.
As Whaley gazed down the range at Chicago Golf Club, she paused, frozen by the magnitude of the moment. “This is almost like a time warp,” she said. “These are the players I started out with.”
Suzy paved the way for her daughters in many ways – as a parent and as a leader in the game of golf. And this week she gets to participate in another step forward for the women’s game – the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open. Once again, Suzy Whaley is a part of history.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.