HARTFORD, Conn. – Suzy Whaley is on the verge of making history.
The mother of two daughters/golfers and Director of Instruction of Suzy Whaley Golf in Cromwell, Conn., will be inducted as the first female president of the PGA of America on Friday November 9 during the organization’s national annual meeting in Palm Desert, Calif.
The prestigious honor caps decades of notoriety for Whaley, starting with winning the 2002 Connecticut Section PGA Championship that made her the first woman to qualify for a PGA Tour event in 57 years, the Greater Hartford Open, now Travelers Championship. In 2014, Whaley became the first female to be elected a PGA of America officer in the 102-year history of the association when she was named secretary.
Whaley will join former U.S. Golf Association president Judy Bell and former LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens as the only women to hold the top position in a golf association. Each step up the PGA of America ladder for Whaley required a formal vote and will lead to the Connecticut Section PGA hosting the national annual meeting at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford on Oct. 25-30, 2020.
“It was a great honor and I was humbled to be the first woman in a PGA executive position,” said Whaley, 51, 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 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 excellence.”
Tom Hantke, who is in 25th year as Connecticut Section PGA executive director, headed a group of Section members and delegates who headed for Whaley’s induction earlier in the week.
“One thing is for certain about Suzy ascending to the PGA presidency: She will be prepared,” Hantke said. “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. Suzy’s firsts have been documented so many times from winning the PGA Section title to being elected a PGA officer. 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 them who are committed to advancing the game of golf and elevating the standing of PGA professionals everywhere.
“Being a woman only better fosters the face of golf. We all want golf to be inclusive. We want to look like everywhere we go, whether you go to the grocery store or go bowling or go out to a movie. That’s the face of America, and Suzy has helped the face of the PGA of America.”
Whaley will be nominated by Gary Reynolds, a PGA Life Member who has received virtually every local Section award and is a former Section president, a founding member and first president of the Section’s Golf Foundation and a founding member of The First Tee of Connecticut. He also nominated Whaley in 2004.
“Who among us is more passionate about teaching the game to every person, to show the magic of our game to every child, to every man and to every woman?” Reynolds said. “Sometimes we are lucky, lucky to experience a moment where we can embrace change. Suzy is a courageous and fearless woman who accepts challenges and succeeds. She has a dynamic and positive personality and is an outstanding leader, visionary and motivator with great public speaking skills.
“She is incisive, has an intelligent mind and develops information into executable plans and programs quickly and easily. She’s passionate in all things golf: playing, teaching and the business of the game. She embraces any and all leadership responsibilities, and PGA areas of emphasis include diversity and inclusion and world class member education and employment services.”
Whaley, who played on the LPGA Tour in 1990 and 1993, will attain the PGA of America’s highest office six months after she became only the ninth woman to obtain PGA Master Professional certification, the highest educational honor a PGA member can achieve. She joined PGA past presidents Roger Warren, Ken Lindsay and J.R. Carpenter as the only PGA officers to earn PGA Master Professional designation.
“I am very proud of that accomplishment,” Whaley said, “and I hope to inspire other PGA professionals to continue their lifelong learning and to provide them opportunities to grow in their careers.”
Whaley’s caddie was Bucky McGann, the father of LPGA player Michelle McGann and longtime friend of Whaley.
“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 are 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 be that with determination, support and passion, anything is within reach.”
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.
Ascension to the highest office in the largest sports organization in the world will culminate Whaley’s contention that golf is the fabric of her life. Born Suzy McGuire in Cherry Hill, N.J., she moved to Syracuse, N.Y., with her family when she was 3 years old and learned the game from her late mother, Mary Ann, an avid golfer. Suzy was nurtured on and off the course by Joe Tesori, a PGA pro from Central New York, and is now part of “The Golfing Family of Connecticut” with Bill and daughters Kelly and Jennifer, who are both accomplished players.
“I’ve tried to help chart a course that I’m very passionate about and feel strongly about,” Whaley said, “and I want to see that continue on a course that really has the member first and foremost. It’s all about the member and growing the game, which I’m incredibly passionate about. So (becoming an officer) was just kind of a natural progression. When I came off the board of directors and the election was coming up, I felt I could be part of making a difference.”
Whaley said she didn’t run to make history; she just felt she was a competent, capable PGA member who really wanted to make a difference, especially since women couldn’t join the organization until 1979. That inclusion was thanks in large part to the efforts of 1978 PGA of America Professional of the Year Walter Lowell of Canton, a Section Lifetime member who has held virtually every position in the organization.
“That this is historic is incredible, and I’m proud to get to be the one who says that,” Whaley said. “I don’t think the significance can be underrated, but the fact that the membership looked at me as a PGA member is fantastic.”
Whaley is a three-time winner of the Connecticut Women’s Open, National LPGA T&CP section champion, Connecticut PGA Club Professional champion and two-time LPGA Northeast T&CP section champion in 2002 and 2005. Among her numerous other accolades are 2013 U.S. Kids Master Top 50 instructor, 2012 LPGA National Nancy Lopez Achievement Award winner, 2010-13 Golf Digest Top 5 Female Teacher and U.S. Kids Top 50 Teachers, 2008-13 LPGA Top 50 instructor, 2007-2013 PGA Top Instructor in Connecticut by Golf Digest and LPGA T&CP Northeast Section Teacher of the Year in 2011, 2003 Gold Key Award from the Connecticut Sports Writers Association, 2003 Role Model of the Year for the Connecticut Girl Scout Association and one of the Golf for Women Top 50 Teachers.
Despite the many nice perks, Whaley’s major objective was quite a different stance.
“Our mission is to make sure we’re serving our members each and every day and that we grow the game,” Whaley said. “That’s what I want to be measured for when I leave. I want to leave the game better than I found it, and I want to leave our members better than we found it.”
The Connecticut Section was the 23rd of the 41 sections to be chartered by the PGA of America, which was founded in 1916. The PGA of America gave the Connecticut Section its charter in 1933 after a series of meetings that took place in the spring of that year.