FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Perhaps no one among the 96 Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame inductees has been more qualified than Suzy Whaley.
Some might consider that hyperbole, but it’s rare that someone could gain entry for distinguished golf achievement AND distinguished service to the game. Whaley, a trailblazer in so many ways, certainly qualifies on both fronts.
Playing on the LPGA Tour and winning three Connecticut Women’s Opens and several more regional and national championships would be good enough alone for the player category. But then you can add being the only female to play in the Julius Boros Challenge Cup Matches between the Connecticut Section PGA and the Connecticut State Golf Association and becoming the first female to capture a PGA of America individual professional tournament and first to qualify for a PGA Tour event in 57 years when she won the 2002 Section PGA Championship and a spot in the 2003 Canon Greater Hartford Open at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
But those series of milestones might actually pale to what the 54-year-old Whaley has achieved while helping enhance the game off the course, starting in 1996 working for renowned golf instructor Jim Flick at Ibis Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., where her husband, Bill Whaley, was the director of golf. A year later, the family moved to Connecticut after the PGA Tour sent Bill to TPC River Highlands. Whaley became teaching pro at Tumble Brook Country Club in Bloomfield and later the head pro at Blue Fox Run Golf Club in Avon and then earned national recognition while the head of Suzy Whaley Golf in Connecticut and now the director of instruction at the Country Club of Mirasol in Palm Beach Garden, Fla., where she and Bill, the PGA Tour’s national director of golf, now reside.
But all that merely touches the surface of what Whaley has done to grow the game. She’s a PGA Master Professional and honorary director of First Tee-Connecticut who has been named a Top 50 instructor by several national magazines and organizations, influenced members on the business side of the game through PGA LEAD, PGA WORKS and other educational programs, was an on-course commentator for ESPN for two years, and in 2014 became the first Section member to be elected to a national board position when she became the first female elected to serve as an officer of the PGA of America, capped by her presidency in 2019-2020. Earlier this year, she was interested in succeeding Mike Whan as LPGA commissioner after he left to become CEO of the U.S. Golf Association but decided to take her name out of consideration.
Whaley has been at the forefront of creating more playing opportunities for girls and women, and she proudly notes the National Golf Foundation data released in 2019 showed the No. 1 demographic in the game’s growth during her PGA tenure was girls. She also received rave reviews about several of her initiatives, many of which were achieved under duress during a worldwide pandemic.
“When you get an honor like this, it’s a dream come true,” Whaley said at her induction ceremony Thursday night at The Patterson Club. “It’s incredibly humbling and also makes you reflect on some of the things that you had the opportunity to do and afforded you the opportunity to make a difference. “Why it’s so special is that it’s a culmination of everything, not just one thing.
“Playing in the GHO gave me a platform for the growth of women everywhere. I’m as competitive as anyone, but it wasn’t about being first or making the cut. It was so much more than that. It gave me a door to walk through and a lot more to do. It showed my daughters (Jen and Kelly, now competing on the Symetra Tour) and other young girls to take chances and be brave, no matter what the outcome was to be, and really work hard to get there.”
Hall of Fame officials had wanted to induct Whaley for several years, but she was always tied up with extensive PGA duties. She is in the midst of two years as honorary president so she finally became a rare solo entry Thursday night not far from where the U.S. Senior Women’s Open is being played at Brooklawn Country Club. In fact, three competitors were among 100 people who attended her induction – Cindy Figg-Currier, amateur Carol Semple Thompson and seven-time LPGA Tour winner Michelle McGann, whose father, Buck McGann, caddied for Whaley in the GHO.
Others at the ceremony included five previous Hall of Fame inductees, including myself, and Whaley offered special thanks for her success to myself, her husband, her daughters, her late mother, Mary Ann McGuire, who started her in the game and often caddied for her; PGA pro Joe Tesori, who gave her lessons when she was young and hired her for her first job in golf; PGA Life Member Walter Lowell, who initiated the idea of having women in the PGA of America in 1978 and was named PGA Professional of the Year; Hall of Fame member Betty Boyko, who was instrumental in the founding of the Southern New England Women’s Golf Association and Connecticut Women’s Amateur Championship; longtime Connecticut Section PGA executive director Tom Hankte; and PGA Life Member and Hall of Famer Gary Reynolds, the campaign manager of the 25-person team that initially worked to get her elected at the annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind.
Highlights of Whaley’s life and accomplishments, including her and Buck McGann in the GHO, were captured in a terrific 20-minute video that had comments from two dozen players and officials from around the country done by the CSGA, headed by executive director Mike Moraghan, whose father, longtime tournament director Marty Moraghan, was inducted in 1991. In his remarks, Moraghan mentioned how when he took over as executive director, he was told Whaley was the first PGA professional he should call, which is what he did.
When asked about the pinnacle of her career and where her Hall of Fame induction ranked among her myriad of achievements, Whaley said “right at the top.”
“Look at the list of women like Glenna Collett Vare and Betty Boyko who put it on the table and made it possible for me to do what I did,” Whaley said. “I would not be here if not for some of the women in the Hall of Fame who preceded me.”
When asked if playing in the GHO or being a PGA of America officer was more significant/important to her, Whaley said, “I can’t pick one over the other. One gave me an opportunity to do the other. The GHO allowed me to feel I can give anything a go and step into the arena.”
So someone who started playing golf by happenstance in Dewitt, N.Y., outside Syracuse, at 9 years old, learned the game from a professor at Syracuse University, played on the boys team in high school and later the University of North Carolina and has been a successful entrepreneur for decades is now the newest member of the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame.
In one of the taped interviews, Mike Whan had perhaps the best summation of the woman whom he has known and worked with for 20 years when he said, “Not too many people can say they left something better than they found it, but, you my friend, have left the game better than you found it in so many ways.”
Welcome to the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame, Suzy Whaley!
(PHOTO CREDIT: Sam Dostaler, Director of Communication, Connecticut State Golf Association)