An Interview with PGA of America President Suzy Whaley

By Chris Wagner

Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America

 

Attend a clinic led by Suzy Whaley and you’ll likely be asked to participate in a balancing drill. Stand on your right foot for 30 seconds, now your left. Men and women teeter and totter. Whaley stands perfectly still, grinning from ear to ear. Pro golfers, she says, can do this without a wobble. It’s the key to remaining centered and balanced.

Whaley, a lifelong glass-ceiling breaker who will become the first female president of the century-old PGA of America in November, practices what she preaches. She starts each day with this balancing exercise before deciding whether to don the hat of instructor, player, PGA executive, mother, wife, or globetrotter, juggling them all while displaying a signature smile.

Consider the first two weeks of July. She started by giving lessons at her teaching facility in Cromwell, Conn., a day before heading to the Chicago Golf Club to compete in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open. After missing the cut by one, she flew to Stanford, Calif., to oversee a youth leadership program. Hours later, she was on a red-eye home before heading to Scotland for The Open Championship. A few days later, she was at PGA of America offices in Florida working on plans to replace outgoing CEO Pete Bevacqua.

Somehow, she found time to remain in touch with her husband, Bill, also a PGA professional, and their daughters, Jenn, a former Division I golfer at Quinnipiac University, and Kelly, a senior at the University of North Carolina with LPGA Tour aspirations.

Daunting? Yes. But Whaley offers this tip for success: “Wherever I am, I try to be 100 percent committed to that moment. Am I 100 percent in balance? Gosh, no. I thrive on challenges and overcommitment and success and competitiveness and everything else that goes along with wanting to grow.”

Growing up near Syracuse, N.Y., Whaley was a fearless downhill skier with Olympic aspirations until injuries steered her toward her second love, golf, where she became a trailblazer—often without intent.

She was the first girl to play on her high school boys’ golf team, but that was partly because the school didn’t have a girls’ team. She became the first female officer of the PGA of America when elected secretary in 2014, but that was more the result of wanting to help in governance than a quest to crash an old-boy network.

“It was never gender driven for me,” Whaley says. “It was about the opportunities. In school I wanted to play golf. [In the PGA] it was not about being the first woman. But I’m looking forward to us becoming an organization with more women leaders.”

Whaley’s success is undeniable. As an instructor, she is one of only nine women to obtain PGA Master Professional certification. As a player, she followed four years at the University of North Carolina and two on the LPGA Tour by winning numerous club pro titles, including the National LPGA Teaching & Club Professional Championship.

In 2002, Whaley shook up the golf world—and her own—by winning the Connecticut Section PGA Championship against a nearly all-male field. The title came with an automatic invitation to play in the 2003 Greater Hartford Open, making Whaley the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to qualify for a PGA Tour event.

As incoming president of the PGA, Whaley wants to advance the association’s goal of making the game more inclusive. It’s just one more challenge she’s ready to take on.

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