Whitworth honored with PGA of America First Lady of Golf Award
She won more golf tournaments than any other professional in history -- male or female. And on Wednesday night, the legendary Kathy Whitworth was honored as the eighth recipient of the PGA of America First Lady of Golf Award.
By Bob Denney, PGA of America
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- Kathy Whitworth, the humble champion with more titles than any tour professional -- male or female -- earned center stage again Wednesday night. This time, she didn't have to carry a bag of clubs or wield a putter that was a magic wand throughout her career.
Whitworth became the eighth recipient of the PGA First Lady of Golf Award, The PGA of America's highest honor to a woman who has made significant contributions to the promotion of the game of golf.
An audience of more than 300 paid tribute at a ceremony at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Country singer Jamie O'Neal, a three-time Grammy Award nominee, entertained with a concert and dedicated one of her hit songs, Somebody's Hero, to Whitworth.
"I still have my own heroes," said Whitworth. "Harvey Penick and Hardy Loudermilk were heroes to me. They gave me so much, and I really was blessed to have had their guidance. You know that nobody successful ever does it by themselves."
The late Loudermilk and Penick were instrumental in Whitworth's golf development. Loudermilk was the 1968 PGA Golf Professional of the Year, and first met Whitworth in tiny Jal, N.M., before sending her to meet Penick, who lived 450 miles away in Austin, Texas. Penick, who was the 1989 PGA Teacher of the Year and is a World Golf Hall of Fame member, picked up the momentum and shaped Whitworth into a champion.
"Harvey is still alive today in his words of some wonderful books," said Whitworth.
For Whitworth, the award reflects what life has been for her since she retired from competition. She has seldom refused an invitation to speak before a group, perform at an exhibition or support a charitable organization.
And, she has never forgotten her roots -- spending most of her life in Jal, a town where she began the process to achieve big dreams.
"Kathy never forgot where she came from," said Mary Bryan of Apopka, Fla., one of Whitworth's close friends and past tour colleague. "She gave back to golf because it has given so much to her."
A video tribute to Whitworth featured many of her close friends, along with golf PGA Tour legends Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. It also included a message from one of the current LPGA stars, Paula Creamer, who met Whitworth a year before winning the Kathy Whitworth Junior Golf Invitational at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
"Kathy has been a great inspiration to me," said Creamer.
Whitworth turned professional in 1958, and joined the LPGA Tour a year later. Discouraged at the start, she had contemplated quitting. But, she cleared a crisis in self-confidence when she earned her first paycheck of $33 for finishing tied for 16th in the 1959 Land Sky Open at Asheville, N.C. She called home to let her parents know that she would continue to play the tour.
Whitworth went on to win a record 88 LPGA events, passing in 1982 Mickey Wright's 82 victories and in 1984 surpassed Sam Snead's PGA Tour record 84 triumphs.
"Eighty-eight wins -- it just happened," said Whitworth. "It isn't easy to win, but I enjoyed trying."
Whitworth's final victory was the 1985 United Virginia Bank Classic. She retired from the tour in 1990.
"I enjoyed my career; I had the best time," she said. "I've been so fortunate to have had good friends to help me in my career. Tonight, I have a room full of friends here."
Celebrating its 90th anniversary, The PGA of America was founded in 1916, and is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the game of golf, while continuing to enhance the standards of the profession. The Association is comprised of more than 28,000 men and women PGA Professionals who are dedicated to growing participation in the game of golf.
PGA First Lady of Golf Recipients
Carol Semple Thompson