For the first time in the organization’s 102-year old history, a woman has been elected President of the PGA of America as Suzy Whaley was sworn in as the 41st President of the PGA of America at the Association’s 102nd Annual Meeting on November 9th, 2018. The move will come as no surprise to many involved in the PGA as Whaley has been a long-standing and well-respected member of America’s professional golfing community. A quick glance at Whaley’s resumé shows her wealth of experience in the PGA: she most recently served two years as Vice President, and two years as PGA Secretary. She is also the PGA Owner of Suzy Whaley Golf, and the PGA Director of Instruction at the Country Club of Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. A member of the Connecticut and South Florida PGA Sections, she is the first person to represent both of these Sections as PGA President.
Whaley recently discussed where her passion for the game came from and what she wants to improve during her tenure. Whaley was growing up right when Title IX came into effect, prohibiting discrimination on gender grounds, so she competed on the boys’ high school golf team. She found no problems getting onto the team but was not allowed to compete in tournaments. Rather than take this lying down, Whaley moved to a club that did facilitate for girls wanting to play competitive golf. Later, Whaley attended a PGA Tour school and played in LPGA events, but she found the opportunities lacking. “I watched my husband play in these tournaments literally weekly, and it was aggravating. I wanted to play against him and I wanted to win!” Whaley said. With encouragement from her husband, she joined the PGA of America and after winning the 2002 Connecticut PGA Championship, Whaley gained entry to a PGA Tour event, the Great Hartford Open. Though some controversy surrounds her victory, as Whaley was allowed to play from the forward tees, making the course distance shorter than for the men, it was nevertheless an extraordinary achievement. By earning her spot, Whaley became the first woman to qualify for a PGA Tour event in 58 years – and just the third ever, following in the footsteps of the great Babe Zaharias in the 1930s and 1940s. Since Whaley, only one other female golfer has qualified for a PGA tour event, Michelle Wie, but to date, no woman has completed an event on the PGA. Speaking about the difference between her childhood experience and now Whaley states: “That just was a sign of the times — it just is how it was, and then fast-forward … and I am allowed to play in a PGA Tour event.”
In 2014, Whaley decided to run for secretary of the PGA of America – a path that automatically leads to the presidency. She faced a delegation of 111 men and just 3 women, but comfortably secured enough votes. A month before the election, the PGA of America fired its president for using sexist language on social media. Four years later, Whaley is taking over that role, and her experience should stand her in good stead. Whaley hopes to combat issues of involvement in the sport and growing the diversity of the sport. “One of our biggest challenges I think, which I look at as an enormous opportunity, is getting more people on our golf courses. We want to welcome women to golf courses. We want more junior girls and junior boys playing golf,” she said. “Can you wear sneakers? Absolutely. Do you have to have a golf outfit? No you do not. Do you have to have equipment? No. Most facilities across the country have equipment for you. You can just walk right in the door and do it.”
Whaley has strived for inclusivity in today’s game: “We have PGA junior league, which is a huge evolving program of 50,000 boys and girls across the country playing PGA junior league golf. They play together — boys and girls from the same tee. … We have close to 35 percent girls playing — we want it to be 50, but we’re getting there — and then we have almost 25 percent of those of color playing”.
Suzy Whaley is an exceptional example to be followed and is advocating for inclusivity in a traditionally exclusive and very closed game. PGA members will be looking forward to her tenure as their leader, a feat that seems even more commendable when you consider just 40 years ago, women couldn’t even be members.