The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship marked the last big championship under PGA of America President Suzy Whaley’s watch. Whaley, a PGA Master Professional and Director of Instruction at The Country Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., became the organization’s first female president in 2018.
She will hand over the reins to Jim Richerson, PGA Vice-President, at the PGA’s Annual Meeting (to be conducted virtually later this month). Whaley has helped to see the PGA through a challenging year in 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic actually has produced an uptick in participation (Whaley reports rounds were up 20 percent June-August), as well as more people wanting to learn the game. Now Whaley says it is up to the PGA’s 29,000 professionals to retain those beginners.
“I cherish the time and the opportunity to be a part of our major championships, but more importantly, to watch our PGA professionals grow. To have them be successful in a year that’s been very challenging is something I’m very proud of,” Whaley said at Aronimink Golf Club. (She was part of the PGA of America’s Board of Directors when the KPMG event was created.) “Their grit and resilience has really brought the sport back to people that needed it. And to be president at that time ... People tend to say, ‘Oh, gosh, it was a Covid year.’ I look at it differently. I look at it as showcasing the true depth and spirit of our PGA professionals, and what they’ve been able to accomplish for their communities is something pretty special.”
Seth Waugh, PGA of America CEO, said he could not have had a better partner than Whaley as he arrived in his position in 2018. He calls Whaley “a force of nature” who has boundless energy and ideas.
“I said to her mid-summer, ‘Suzy, your legacy is going to be not only being Jackie Robinson for this association, but you saw us through a crisis. We’re going to come out of it stronger than we went in, and our brand and our culture and everything we do is as strong as its ever been,’” Waugh said. “It’s because of her leadership, and our partnership, all of us together, doing this. You’ve presided over something a whole lot more important than a home Ryder Cup, that is, getting us through this. That’s what I will always remember.”
Whaley, who has served as a PGA of America board member, then president, for nine years (with the exception of 2014, her election year), said there were too many highlights to name one favorite memory. But certainly, a meaningful memory came on Saturday when she handed Joanna Coe the inaugural Women’s PGA Professional Player of the Year Award for Coe’s outstanding 2019 season. Coe is an instructor at Baltimore Country Club who played in this week’s KPMG and was on the winning U.S. team (captained by Whaley) at the first PGA Women’s Cup in Austin, Texas, in 2019.
“We have Ryder Cups and championships and I would be silly to say those aren’t incredible moments in time,” Whaley said. “But when you have the opportunity to effect change, have the opportunity to do something special and something new, as part of that leadership group, the PGA Women’s Cup is an example, the KPMG Women’s PGA, I was here at its inception. A Women’s PGA Professional of the Year? That’s something that I am very proud to leave behind.”