Suzy Whaley has an awful lot to be proud of in terms of golf.
In her career, Whaley has played two seasons on the LPGA Tour, has worked as an on-course reporter for ESPN, and is a nationally recognized top golf instructor. Her recognitions include being named her Connecticut section Teacher of the Year twice (2004 & 2007) and recently being named a Top 50 golf instructor by Golf Digest. She has been titled a U.S. Kids Master Instructor and twice has won the LPGA New England teacher of the year. Additionally, she has achieved PGA Certified Professional status, is on the board of directors for the First Tee of CT and the CT PGA, and is a Director on the National Board of the PGA of America. (Whaley represents District 1 - covering New England, Northeast New York and Connecticut.) Not surprisingly, she has also been award the CT Section Bill Strausbaugh award for representing all the best attributes of the PGA Professional.
Even more, Whaley is probably best known for being the first woman in more than 50 years to qualify for a men's PGA Tour event when she won the PGA Connecticut section championship in 2003 and earned a spot into the 2004 Greater Hartford Open. Her performance cemented her legacy in the game and made her an inspirational figure to millions of golfers and non-golfers alike.
But despite all the accolades and honors, despite giving thousands of interviews about all of her successes in golf; Whaley has never altered her answer as her favorite moment in golf.
"My favorite moment, my proudest moment, was about 10 years ago and my husband and two daughters and I went out to play a round of golf at Blue Fox Run, in Avon, CT, where I worked at the time," Whaley recalled. "It was the first time that the four of us had played a full round of golf together. I remember my husband and I teeing off on the final hole and then watching our girls (Jenn - age 9 at the time and Kelly - age 7) tee off. The two girls walked ahead of us and I remember watching them walk up the fairway ahead of us, their little bags over their backs and then I just realized that I had tears pouring down my face. The late afternoon sun, the weather was perfect, my family was right there all having a great time in a sport that has given me so much and could give them so much - it was just a magical moment. I knew it couldn't be recreated or replicated, it was just one of those moments that, as a golfer and as a mother, you remember forever."
Whaley's daughters didn't consider that "perfect" golf moment to be the pinnacle of their golf careers but rather, their springboard. Both developed a great love of golf and have created their own footprints on a golf journey already heavy with "Whaley" markings. (Suzy's husband Bill is the National Director of Golf for PGA Tour Properties and the General Manager and PGA Director of Golf at TPC River Highlands.)
Jenn is now a Division I golfer at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn and as a sophomore was named captain of the team. Kelly is an accomplished golfer in her junior year in high school. Both have competed in, and had much success in, junior tournaments around the country for the last several years.
On one trip down to historic Pinehurst nearly five years ago, the Whaley ladies decided to drop by and visit Suzy's alma mater - the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There, both girls were able to visit the iconic campus and even see some of the tributes the university has honoring their mother's golf accomplishments.
Kelly made a bold declaration as an eighth-grader, stating she would follow in her mother's footsteps and become a golfer at UNC Chapel Hill. She picked out a locker she wanted and wrote a reminder on the locker room whiteboard that this would be her destination once she graduated high school.
"Obviously, that's a big statement and you want to encourage your daughter," Suzy stated, "but the reality is, there's an awful lot of variables that go into a goal like that - most notably, there's no guarantee a child will have the type of talent to play for such a program, that there'd be space at the school, that she wouldn't want to go somewhere else as she developed and improved."
But Kelly did keep developing and improving and continued her love of Carolina blue. Last month, the entire family returned to Chapel Hill for a visit (The visit was not an official recruiting visit, but one for the family to go see the campus and facilities. Kelly, now a junior in high school, had narrowed her hopeful schools to a few which of course, included her longtime wish of UNC Chapel Hill.)
During the visit, UNC's women's golf coach Jan Mann, surprised the family with a pointed statement to Kelly.
"Kelly," Mann asserted, "we'd like for you to be a part of our program."
Kelly, while very excited, was unfazed. She accepted the invitation on the spot.
And just like that, a verbal commitment had been made, a legacy had come full circle, and Suzy's proudest moment in golf had been extended from one moment on a glorious afternoon to a lifetime of being a proud Tar Heel, proud golfer and most of all, a proud mother.
"Knowing my daughters are happy, confident, well-mannered and encouraging people is what makes me proudest," Suzy said. "It's not about the success you might find on the golf course, it's the bigger view of what golf provides. This is why I'm so passionate to other parents in my community and all over about getting their juniors involved in golf. Maybe it leads to a great athletic career, maybe it doesn't. But the payoff is always greater than the investment."
The Spirit of Golf is a celebration of the most important stories in golf - your stories. Though magical moments are associated with major championships or the Ryder Cup - the very best times are found when playing with family, friends, in helping a greater cause or traveling to a bucket list course. We invite all golfers to read, share and contribute their own great memories as we all work together to enjoy the "Spirit of Golf". If you have a good story for the "Spirit of Golf" - you can contact John Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org