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Suzy Whaley: An ability to focus is key to her success

By Charles Dillahunt
Published on

A modern-day trailblazer, Suzy Whaley, PGA/LPGA is the first woman to serve as president of the PGA of America. It’s not the first piece of history she’s written, as Whaley also made her mark as the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to qualify to play in a PGA Tour event, when she competed in the 2003 Hartford Open. 
 
Whaley loves serving as a role model for aspiring golf industry professionals. And her bright outlook on life has positioned her as a hero to young men and women in the golf industry. 
 
“It’s always an honor to feel like you’ve contributed in a way that’s impacted someone’s life,” said Whaley. “Being a leader is all about empowering others to succeed. And if you’re going to be a leader who builds a team that has a perspective; who feels safe giving you feedback; who understands you expect a lot from them, that relationship to me is something that’s incredibly important.
 
“I wouldn’t want to lead if others feared me. I’m a more collaborative leader, but I also hold people accountable. People enjoy having responsibility and want to show you they can do great work. If you pay attention, and focus on listening as a leader, often times, people feel better about being on your team.”
 
 
The ability to lock-in and have a singular focus at a given time is evident in all aspects of Whaley’s life, and is rooted from a childhood dream.
 
“I get far more accomplished when I have purposeful and intentional focus on one thing at a time,” explains Whaley. “This was something I began early in life, because I was a trained ski racer. I wanted to be an Olympic gold medalist, and I knew from a young age what it would take to make it.”
 
Whaley’s childhood coach, PGA of America Hall of Fame Member Joe Tesori, PGA Head Professional at The Pompey Club near Syracuse, New York, says that her ability to focus at key moments is a difference-maker.
 
“Suzy would be walking between shots without a care in the world—talking, smiling, laughing and making jokes,” states Tesori. “Then, when she got to her ball, her whole countenance would change, and she’d immerse herself in this bubble of her pre-shot routine. All was serious, she’d hit a great shot, and then it was right back to talking and laughing.”
 
“My brain works around the thought of here’s where I want to be, and here’s what I need to do it,” explains Whaley. “Ski races were 40 seconds, so I trained at a young age to bring it all in that short time. This also helped in golf, and Joe taught me to do it in shorter bursts for my pre-shot routine.”
 
Tesori praised her ability to also have fun in the process.
 
“We discussed it from time-to-time, but it was something that just came natural,” he said. “I now teach my players how to enjoy the experience in-between shots, just as much as the experience of hitting the ball, because of Suzy. At the first practice every year, I point to a picture of Suzy, and amplify the importance of finding a happy place between the shots in golf, because it makes your experience with the game that much better.
 
“Suzy was a gift to coach, because she’s a once-in-a-lifetime individual. I’ve been able to watch her whole life, and she was always destined to succeed, because of how she approached her life in such a positive manner.”
 
Whaley credits her ability to focus on leading effectively to family and friends.
 
“To juggle all my responsibilities, I need a team of people in my life who support me daily,” added Whaley. “I have an incredible spouse and amazing children who give me leeway. They understand my time, and for me, it’s all about managing what I’m trying to do in the moment.
 
Guiding Philosophy of a Leader
 
“My daily philosophies are to be kind, be open to other people’s perspectives, and be overprepared. If you’re kind and come to things with joy—and you’ve prepared in a way that’s substantial—opportunities will always present themselves.”
 
Being a leader and role model is a task Whaley doesn’t take lightly.
 
“If people are looking to me as a role model or someone who has taken a position they can now see themselves in, then it’s one of the biggest honors I can have,” said Whaley. “However, it’s also an enormous responsibility.”
 
Whaley now serves as an inspiration to the younger generation of PGA Professionals following in her footsteps.
 
“I believe in myself and what I can accomplish in this industry because there have been people like Suzy before me,” explains PGA REACH Event Coordinator Andrea Ballou, who recently became a PGA Member. “She’s shown fearless leadership throughout her entire career.”
 
Whaley often offers advice for anyone interested in entering the game and business of golf.
 
“It’s pertinent to understand the direction and vision young people have for the future of the PGA and golf as a whole,” she says. “Be proud of your body of work, so that when you come into the industry in any role, you can be assured you’ve put the time and effort in, and have already earned the respect to be in the position you’re in.” 
 
“I want young people to feel strongly about all the hours of work they have put in and their voice in the game. I want them to step up and have a seat at the table. That way, they have a voice and can give back in a meaningful way.”
 
If you’re interested in learning more about Suzy Whaley, follow her on Twitter @suzywhaley and on Instagram @mammawhales.
 
For more stories on people who are making an impact in golf, follow @PGAWORKS on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. 
 
For more information on careers at the PGA of America, visit careers.pgahq.com.
 
 
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