Monday, June 9, 2003

Another woman tries PGA event



By DOUG LESMERISES
The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal

ROCKLAND, Del. - The night that Suzy Whaley changed women's golf, she went shopping with her mom at T.J. Maxx and attended her daughter's kindergarten orientation.

It was Sept. 17, 2002, and she had no clue of the changes she would spark by winning the Connecticut PGA Section Championship.

Whaley, 36, played from tees 10 percent shorter then the men. She won her section title while assuming that the exemption to the PGA's Greater Hartford Open wouldn't apply to her, a woman.

Other women played in section championships before, but none had ever won. Whaley did, becoming the first woman to qualify for a PGA Tour event by earning an exemption to the Greater Hartford Open. The tournament begins July 24.

"We didn't think it was that big a deal," Whaley said.

It took three months of deliberation before she accepted the spot at Hartford.

The changes became bigger a month later when Annika Sorenstam entered the issue and wound up playing in a PGA event before Whaley.

Whaley never meant for any of it to happen. She never even meant to have a career as a club professional.

But 14 years ago at DuPont Country Club near Wilmington, everything changed for a golfer then named Suzy McGuire.

She qualified for the McDonald's Championship as an amateur. After she missed the cut by only one shot, two spectators offered to back her on a quest to qualify for the LPGA Tour. She accepted, put law school on hold, spent two years on the tour and then started life as a club pro.

"That changed my life," she said. "People say that, but it's true. It really changed my whole life, changed who I am."

When the PGA offered the same invitation it would have made to a male winner, it was a very big deal, and the decision to accept or refuse her place in the field became excruciating.

"One morning I would wake up and wave the white flag," Whaley said, "and the next morning I would wake up and say, 'I'm playing.' And the next day, I'd say, 'Naw, I'm out,' and the next day I'd say, 'I'm in.' It was very hard."

She spoke to the PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour, her family and to her coach - who just happens to be her husband. She weighed every factor, and then listened when her daughter Jennifer told her to play.

That's when women's golf changed.

For a former ski racer who has golfed against men her whole life, the responsibility fits, even if it was an accident.

"Suzy likes to tackle things that are challenges," said her sister Tracy Brinker. "She was a milestone person here. She actually qualified and that made it hard, so I think she felt she needed to go."

Then came Annika Sorenstam's foray onto the PGA Tour last month at the Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. That took some of the edge off Whaley's upcoming foray into the world of men's golf.

Whaley stays busy with her club professional duties - giving lessons, running a golf shop - and takes it very seriously. She considers this chance an extension of those duties.

"If I can bring some education to people of how good these women are, then great," Whaley said, "because they need a blast in the arm. People need to realize how good women are, and Annika showed them that. I think there were a lot of people that didn't know that, and now they do. And if I had a little part to do with that, then I'm proud of that."




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