(May 31, 2021) – Suzy Whaley, the first female president of the PGA of America and a long-time PGA Connecticut Section member, will be inducted into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame on Thursday, July 29th during a ceremony following the first round of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn Country Club.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame committee,” said Whaley. “I am extremely proud to stand beside the others currently representing Connecticut.”
Whaley and Connecticut golf are synonymous with each other. But it was a life-changing moment in her childhood hometown of Syracuse, New York that set the foundation for her golf career. She was a 9-year-old splashing around in the swimming pool of the club her family belonged to when some of the boys decided they were going to go to the driving range. Still in her bathing suit, she headed over to the range to join them.
“I walked across the parking lot and began hitting balls, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to do that,” Whaley fondly recalled. “The golf pro got my mom off the course because I was dressed inappropriately, but as my mom drove up – this is the epitome of how incredible she was – instead of being angry with me, all she said was, ‘Do you like this?’ I said, ‘Yeah, this is fun.’ And she said, ‘Well, let’s go get you an outfit.’ That, to me, was a moment in time that changed my whole life. From that moment on, I was a range rat, became my mom’s golf pal and we played as much as we could.”
Whaley played college golf at the University of North Carolina and briefly on the LPGA Tour in 1990 and 1993 before spending some time at home following the birth of her oldest daughter Jennifer. In 1996 she began working for renowned golf instructor Jim Flick at Ibis Country Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, where her husband Bill was the director of golf. One year later in May of 1997, her youngest daughter Kelly was born and then on July 4th, the family was off to Connecticut after the PGA Tour sent Bill to TPC at River Highlands.
After taking some time to settle into her new home Whaley visited five Hartford area golf courses in early 1998 in search of a job and by the time she returned home she had five offers waiting for her. The best offer came from Tumble Brook Country Club so she accepted and became a teaching pro at the club while also teaching once a week at Blue Fox Run Golf Course. During the same time frame from 1999-2001, she also taught at TPC River Highlands and Torza’s Driving Range in Cromwell while working towards her PGA of America Class A card. Once she earned her card a new opportunity presented itself and in February of 2002, she became the head professional at Blue Fox Run.
“It was overwhelming at first, and I was in tears sometimes,” Whaley recalls. “Being a golf pro wasn’t that hard because I knew what it entailed. But my time management was a complete impossibility because I was at the club 80-90 hours a week and had no time for my family. But we figured it out, and my girls came over to the club with me, which was the best part. We got to spend time together on the range and even go out and play some golf. Things worked out pretty well.”
2002 was also the year that Whaley achieved national recognition when she became the first woman to capture a PGA individual tournament. Her victory at the 2002 PGA Connecticut Section Championship earned her a spot in the 2003 Greater Hartford Open, making her the first woman to qualify for a PGA Tour event since Babe Zaharias in 1945. During the 2002 season, Whaley also won the second of her three consecutive Connecticut Women’s Open championships.
“I used that platform, for sure, for the growth of women everywhere,” Whaley said of her GHO appearance. “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.”
Eventually, that hard work led Whaley to the PGA of America Board of Directors where in 2014 she became the first female to hold a position when she was elected as Secretary. Whaley beat out two others by a sizable margin earning 52% of the vote. With the election, Whaley also became the first member of the PGA Connecticut Section to be elected to a national board position.
“It’s an incredibly special day for me, my family, the PGA Connecticut Section, and our members,” Whaley said on that memorable day. “Our association has a long-term strategic plan, and I’m excited to be part of implementing that plan. We have so many opportunities to bring diverse groups into the game, that’s what I’m excited about.”
Being elected secretary put Whaley on the path to becoming the first female president of the PGA of America Board of Directors assuming the position in 2018. During her tenure, which included the 2020 Covid season Whaley introduced the inaugural OMEGA Women’s PGA Player of the Year Award, continued the growth of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and created the Girls Junior PGA Championship.
During 2020 Whaley was at the forefront of golf’s battle against Covid helping to create the Golf Emergency Relief Fund, which donated nearly $8 million to 5,200 recipients across the golf industry while also leading the Back2Golf initiative with the CDC to re-open golf courses safely and provide golfers with a responsible outlet for entertainment.
Throughout her career, Whaley has received numerous teaching awards locally and nationally. Whaley is a two-time Connecticut Section PGA Teacher of the Year helping more than 300 juniors play college golf, she has been recognized by Golf for Women as a top 50 female instructor as the PGA Director of Instruction for Suzy Whaley Golf and the Country Club of Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida where she currently works teaching lessons nearly every day.
Whaley was a 2016 Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame inductee, has served on the ANNIKA Foundation Board and PGA Tour Policy Board and is an honorary director for the First Tee of Connecticut. She was honored with the 2017 Betsy Rawls Award from the American Junior Golf Association for service, dedication, and contributions to women’s golf. In 2015 Whaley was named a Sports Business Journal “Game Changer” as a woman leader who has had a major impact on sports business and received the 2015 Margo Dydek Award from the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun for her ability to engage, challenge and inspire while serving as a role model.
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