HARTFORD, Conn. – With the 2018 golf year less than six months old, Kelly Whaley has had quite an impressive start.
First, Whaley shot a 12-under-par 204 to break her own University of North Carolina record for 54 holes in a five-stroke victory that led the Tar Heels to victory in the Briar’s Creek Invitational at The Golf Club in Briar’s Creek in Johns Island, S.C. She also shot every round in the 60s, a first for a Tar Heel, including her mother, Suzy, before she played on the LPGA Tour in 1990 and 1993.
Then on Sunday June 10, in record fashion, Whaley registered another five-stroke victory in the Hartford Women’s Open. The UNC junior shot her first bogey-free round, a women’s course-record, 5-under 65 at Keney Park Golf Course, for a 36-hole total of 7-under 133, which was five less than another amateur, Linda Wang.
Whaley, 21, who won the Connecticut State Women’s Amateur Championship three times, began the final round with a one-stroke lead over pro Jordan Lintz but wasn’t happy with the way she started with her father, Bill, caddying for her again.
“I wasn’t hitting it well going into the event and didn’t hit that good the first five holes (Sunday),” said Whaley, who opened with a 2-under 68 at Goodwin Park Golf Course on Saturday. “Then on the sixth tee, I told myself to start really hitting it, and I felt more confident from then on.”
More confident indeed. Whaley hit a 9-iron on the par-3 sixth hole to 4 feet and made the birdie putt, then knocked wedge approaches on Nos. 8 and 9 to a foot to turn in 32 and take most of the suspense out of the tournament.
Whaley made two birdies, including a 25-foot putt at No. 16, and was never in danger of making a bogey in a 33 on the back nine played alongside Wang and Lintz, who earned the $3,000 first-place check by shooting 70 to finish third at 139.
“I was really steady and hitting each individual shot was my priority,” said Whaley, making her tournament debut in the 4-year-old event. “My first goal was trying to think birdies, and if I didn’t make one, I just thought about the next hole.
“Not getting ahead of myself was important, and I managed to stay patient.”
Like her mother, Whaley would like to play on the LPGA Tour and has seen several key improvements in her game the last few years.
“My putting is better, but most importantly, I’m a lot stronger mentally,” said Whaley, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “We work on that a lot at UNC, and now I’m able to handle harder situations better.”
Bill Whaley played on the Australian and Asian Tours and is now the Senior Regional Director of Operations at the PGA Tour after being the general manager and Director of Golf at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, home of the Travelers Championship, which is June 21-24. He said he also has seen more mental toughness in his daughter.
“Kelly has always been a good ball-striker, but now there’s a lot less highs and lows,” Bill said. “She’s trying to stay within herself, live in 45 seconds and don’t get rattled. She is still competitive and hard-charging, but she doesn’t get frustrated as much as she used to.”
Kelly has worked mainly on her game with Bill and her mother, a renowned teacher who has a litany of achievements on and off the course, most notably winning the 2002 Connecticut Section PGA Championship to qualify for the 2003 Greater Hartford Open, the first woman to accomplish that feat since Babe Zaharias in the 1945 Los Angeles Open. She also became the first female elected an officer in the PGA of America in 2014, and on Nov. 9, she will become the first female elected president of the national organization and then host its annual meeting in Hartford in 2020.
Suzy and oldest daughter Jenn Whaley, 23, were unable to be on hand Sunday. Suzy had a 6 a.m. flight to San Francisco for a practice round at the famed Olympic Club in preparation for a U.S. Senior Women’s Open qualifier on Monday. She then will be attending PGA of America meetings for several days before returning home for the Travelers Championship. Jenn, who was among the top amateur players in Connecticut in the late 2010s and captain of the Quinnipiac University women’s golf team her last two years, had to work for Aetna in their FDLP program in finance in Hartford.
Wang, who will be a junior at St. John’s University, was 2 over for six holes before making three consecutive birdies. She added birdies at the 16th and 17th hole before a three-putt bogey at No. 18 gave her 68, which tied her career low.
“I would have liked a new career low, but I played smart and kept the ball in the fairway,” said Wang, who is from Fresh Meadows, N.Y., and had two collegiate wins this past season. “Kelly played really well, but I’m happy I did well each round. There’s always good and bad, but I had a lot of good.”
Lintz also lauded Whaley for her play but was happy that she played as well as she did because it was only her second major event of the year as she spends most of her time teaching at Jordan Lintz Golf at Oronoque Village Country Club in Stratford. Sunday, Lintz was 3 over after a four-putt double-bogey 6 at No. 8 but then made four birdies in the next eight holes before a closing bogey at the difficult par-3 18th.
“I made some careless mistakes, but not many, and made some good putts,” Lintz said.
Lintz won the 2011 Connecticut Women’s Open in a playoff with Liz Janangelo Caron and tied for second in the inaugural Hartford Women’s Open in 2016. Despite finishing third Sunday, the former LPGA Tour player received her first competitive check of the year for $3,000 as low pro.
“I can’t complain about that,” a smiling Lintz said.
Sarah Houle of Sandy Hook held a new women’s course record of 66 until Whaley finished 45 minutes later. Houle, whose 2-under 70 won the CIAC Girls High School Championship at Tashua Knolls Golf Club in Trumbull on Tuesday, had five birdies, including at the 17th and 18th holes, where she hit a wedge to 3 feet and then made a 12-foot putt to cap her day.
“I really felt comfortable with my putting, especially inside 15 feet,” said Houle, who graduates from Newtown High on June 18.
Houle is one of millions of people worldwide touched by the horrific shooting death of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. The incident was the deadliest mass shooting at a high school or grade school in U.S. history and the fourth-deadliest mass shooting by a single person in U.S. history.
“That inspired me to show strength and kindness on the golf course and in life in general,” Houle said. “I want to spread as much good as I can.”
Sarah has certainly started to do just that in a mighty strong manner.
The other inspiring feat of the final round came from the youngest player in the field, 9-year-old Vinny Papa of Foster, R.I. Papa, a third-grader at Foster Captain Isaac Paine School, came within inches of her first hole-in-one with a 4-wood on the 145-yard 13th hole on the way to a 77, which was 11 strokes better than her previous low and beat 31 of the 51 who played Sunday.
“It’s unbelievable,” said a beaming Papa, who has an 11 handicap and tied for 32nd at 167. “But I love the course. I love the slopes.”
Papa was coming off getting attention from several college coaches last weekend in the prestigious Scott Robinson Invitational in Roanoke, Va. Papa’s older sister, 11-year-old Gianna, shot 75 Sunday to tie for 27th at 161.
Leading pro prizes: Lintz, $3,000; Nathalie Filler, Flourtown, Pa., 144, $2,000; Camden Morrison, 146, $1,250; Kayla Lawrence, Deland, Fla., 148, $750.
Leading amateur age division prizes: 18 and under: Houle, $250; Heather Garvin, Feeding Hills, Mass., 143, $175; 19-29: Whaley, $250; Wang, $175; Krystal Knight, Groveland, Mass., 146, $150; 30 and over: Jen Holland, Lyman Orchards, 151, $250; Mercedes Large, Bloomfield, 159, $200; Nancy Walker, South Windsor, 163, $150.
Pros competed for an $8,000 purse that awarded $3,000 to the winner thanks to sponsors The Hartford, Mohegan and PGA Tour. Amateurs played for merchandise prizes thanks to supporting sponsors Srixon, Skechers and Par Bar.
The event returned to the City of Hartford where both courses underwent $10 million in renovations and are a testament that golf is back in the state’s capital city.
Hartford Women’s Open
Jun 9 – 10
Goodwin & Keney Park Golf Courses
1 Kelly Whaley (a) Palm Beach Gardens, FL -5 F -7 68 65 133
2 Linda Wang (a) Fresh Meadows, NY -2 F -2 70 68 138
3 Jordan Lintz (p) Stratford, CT E F -1 69 70 139
4 Sarah Houle (a) Sandy Hook, CT -4 F E 74 66 140
5 Angela Garvin (a) Feeding Hills, MA -1 F +3 74 69 143
6 Nathalie Filler (p) Flourtown, PA +3 F +4 71 73 144
T7 Camden Morrison (p) Millis, MA -1 F +6 77 69 146
T7 Krystal Knight (a) Groveland, MA +2 F +6 74 72 146
9 Kayla Lawrence (p) DeLand, FL +3 F +8 75 73 148
10 Jen Holland (a) Branford, CT +6 F +11 75 76 151
11 Mia Grzywinski (a) Farmington, CT +8 F +12 74 78 152
12 Vienna Winalski (a) West Hartford, CT +8 F +13 75 78 153
T13 Kelly Okun (p) West Palm Beach, FL +6 F +14 78 76 154
T13 Autumn Serruta (a) Avon, CT +9 F +14 75 79 154
T13 Jodi Lauzier (p) East Granby, CT +8 F +14 76 78 154
T16 Taylor Schmidt (a) Westfield, MA +6 F +15 79 76 155
T16 Sophia Sarrazin (a) Westport, CT +8 F +15 77 78 155
T16 Alexsandra Lapple (a) Ridgefield, CT +10 F +15 75 80 155
19 Marie Allo (a) Newington, CT +11 F +16 75 81 156
20 Hannah Blonder (a) Westwood, MA +7 F +17 80 77 157