PGA's Whaley continues to make history

By
Joe Morelli
New Haven Register

Series: PGA

Published: Sunday, April 26, 2015 | 3:34 a.m.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Suzy Whaley's life was already pretty jam-packed: mother of two, golf instructor, junior golf program coordinator and a volunteer women's golf coach, among other things, kept her plenty busy.

As a former member of the board of directors for both the Connecticut Section PGA and the National PGA, along with being a former head professional, Whaley had already given plenty back to the game that helped spawn a brief LPGA career.

But at age 48, Whaley is far from being done with giving back. Last November, the Farmington resident was elected secretary of the PGA of America, becoming the first woman to be elected an officer of the association, beating two other candidates. It is a volunteer position.

"I felt I was the best candidate for the job," Whaley said. "It's nothing to do with being the first woman. The membership had to elect me. One hundred and sixteen men and three women voted, so it was a tough battle to win. Anybody who wants to be a leader has to challenge himself or herself, has to grow, has to have a reason why, a purpose, and my reason why and purpose is pretty strong. I love this game."

Derek Sprague was officially elected president of the PGA of America the same day Whaley became secretary. Sprague said he's known Whaley for the past few years from their days serving on the National PGA Board of Directors.

"Suzy has been fantastic. She brings a lot of energy to the Board and works tirelessly for PGA members and the association," Sprague said.

The job of the PGA of America elected officials, and head professionals around the country in general, is to grow the game; to bring new members to their clubs through initiatives like Play It Forward -- which uses the forward tees for beginners and children. In a game that recently has been on the decline as far as rounds played across the nation, Whaley said it has flattened out.

Now, just over five months into her six-year term, the goal for Whaley is to help turn those numbers into a positive trend, sooner rather than later.

"We continue to grow the game and give back to the game that had given to us," Whaley said.

The game has allowed Whaley to become a known commodity. Twice she played the LPGA Tour (1990 and 1993), but she didn't become nationally known until winning the 2002 Connecticut PGA Championship. She was the head pro at Blue Fox Run GC in Avon at the time, allowing her to compete.

The victory came with an exemption to play in the 2003 Greater Hartford Open -- making her the first woman to qualify for a PGA Tour event since Babe Zaharias in 1945. Whaley shot 75-78 to miss the cut at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.

"I used that platform, for sure, for the growth of women everywhere," Whaley said. "It was not about being first or making the cut. It was to show my girls to take chances and be brave, no matter what the outcome was to be, and really work hard to get there."

Whaley continued to play in the Connecticut Section and state women's events before becoming a full-time instructor. The Connecticut Section named her PGA Teacher of the Year in 2004 and 2007. She has been an instructor at TPC River Highlands for a decade.

Whaley does have a business partner to help run her various junior programs at River Highlands, Tunxis Plantation CC in Farmington and Farmington Woods CC. Her annual girls golf fair will be held May 16 at River Highlands.

And she's still a volunteer coach at Quinnipiac, where her oldest daughter, Jenn, is just completing her junior year. Suzy also has a website (SuzyWhaleyGolf.com) and has over 3,500 followers on Twitter (@suzywhaley).

So in her new position, one in which Whaley admits she will be traveling the country up to 125 days per year, where does she find time for her family? That's the interesting thing: they spend maybe even more time on the road than she does.

Husband Bill, the former general manager at TPC River Highlands, is the national director of golf for PGA Tour Properties. Their youngest daughter, Kelly, who won her second straight Connecticut Women's Amateur last August, is in her final year at the International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and will play for her mother's alma mater, the University of North Carolina, in the fall.

"I've always been a working mom," Whaley said. "There are sacrifices you have to make that aren't fun, games that you have to miss, events you want to be at that you can't be at. But when I am with them, I want them to know I am 100 percent committed at their event and they have my support. No matter where I am, they can always reach me. They've also seen me grow, learn, excel, fail, get back up and try again."

Sprague was the general manager and director of golf at Malone (N.Y.) Golf Club when he started at the PGA of America, first as the secretary, then the vice president. His presidency concludes in 2016.

"That is the challenge of our volunteer roles," Sprague said. "We have to have understanding employers to allow us to travel as much as we do to serve PGA members and to grow the game globally. Besides the days of travel, the volume of daily work adds to our paid jobs."

Whaley hopes to follow the same path Sprague did to become president by the fall of 2018. The membership must approve all appointments.

"I tell kids, you're not always going to get what you want, but surround yourself with incredible people, give back to your community and strive really hard for what you want," Whaley said. "Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't, but that doesn't mean you give up. You figure it out, reassess, pick yourself up and go forward."

This article was written by Joe Morelli from New Haven Register and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.