Thursday, September 19, 2002

Woman qualifies for PGA Tour event

Associated Press Writer

        HARTFORD, Conn. — Suzy Whaley knows what's at stake as she decides whether to break a barrier in the tradition-filled game of golf.

        The history. The responsibility. The possible backlash.

        The first woman to qualify for a tournament on the all-male PGA Tour isn't so sure she's up to the task.

        “Everybody today has said, 'How could you possibly not play? Of course you have to play, from a woman's standpoint,”' Whaley said Wednesday. “If I do play, it's hard to be competitive from 7,000-and-change yards. What would I shoot from there? Would that be OK for women's golf?”

        Whaley, a 35-year-old head pro at a Connecticut golf course, earned an exemption to the 2003 Greater Hartford Open with a come-from-behind victory Tuesday in a PGA Section Championship.

        Whaley played from tees that made the course about 10 percent shorter than the men played. If she competes in the Greater Hartford Open, she'll play from the championship tees.

        Tournament organizers say she's welcome, and tour players said they thought having Whaley compete would be “cool.”

        An LPGA Tour player in 1990 and 1993, Whaley said she has a lot of thinking to do before making her decision. Dates for the 2003 tournament are not yet set; it is usually played in late June.

        Whaley has until a week before the tournament to decide, but she said she wouldn't wait that long so another player would have the chance to take her spot if she doesn't play.

        Whaley's husband, Bill, is the general manager at the TPC at River Highlands in Cromwell, where the event is held. She said he hasn't put any pressure on her to decide either way.

        The tournament's chairman, Dan Baker, said he would be “thrilled to have her.”

        “She's a great player. She earned it,” Baker said.

        Golf is steeped in history and custom, from its roots at the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland to its precise etiquette and the expectation that players will call penalties on themselves.

        Whaley's case is just another example of how golf's traditions are under pressure.

        The National Council of Women's Organizations is feuding with the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, because the club has no female members. The PGA Tour lost a court fight over Casey Martin's use of a golf cart. Martin has a circulatory disorder in his right leg that makes it painful for him to walk.

        PGA Tour spokesman Bob Combs said tour regulations stipulate that a winner of a sectional championship qualifies for the tour event within those geographical boundaries.

        Whaley also was the only woman to qualify for the PGA Club Professional Championship in June in Louisville, Ky., but she missed the cut.

        A Syracuse, N.Y., native, Whaley said she wasn't thinking about history when she shot a 1-under 71 at the Ellington Ridge Country Club to win the Connecticut Section title.

        “I was just playing to win the tournament,” she said.

        At the American Express Championship in Ireland, the world's best players offered encouragement.

        “I think it's pretty cool,” Tiger Woods said. “She went out there and she earned her right. She beat everybody in the field, and that's what you have to do.”

        “The PGA Tour has always tried to promote the game without discrimination,” said Phil Mickelson, the two-time defending champion of the Greater Hartford Open. “It's all about the best players.”

        Brad Faxon said, “It would be cool publicity.”

        Faxon and Davis Love III questioned allowing Whaley to play the sectional tournament from shorter tees.

        “She played a different course under different standards,” Love said.

        Still, if Whaley played in the Greater Hartford Open, Love said he'd “treat her like any other club pro or amateur I didn't know. I'd shake her hand, say hello and wish her luck.”

        Whaley chuckled when she heard that.

        “I went to college with Dave. We played on the golf team together. He doesn't know it's me,” said Whaley, whose maiden name was McGuire when she — and Love — played at North Carolina.


        AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this story from Thomastown, Ireland.


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