Wednesday was it. Suzy Whaley, who has become almost synonymous with the PGA of America given her ubiquitous presence on the national stage for the past decade, stepped aside as the association’s president on October 28. She was the PGA’s first female president, a position she held for two years.
In a normal time, this transition from office would have taken place at the PGA of America annual meeting in Florida with speeches and gifts and standing ovations. But 2020 has been anything but normal. Like seemingly everyone else, PGA officers and members meet virtually these days.
That doesn’t dampen the praise being heaped on Whaley.
“Suzy has had a huge impact on women, but I think she’s been a role model for everybody, in how to comport yourself and be extremely professional in a very professional organization,” said LPGA Professionals National President Marvol Barnard, who, like Whaley, is a member of both the PGA of America and the LPGA. “I think she’s earned the respect of everybody, men and women alike.”
No one handed her that respect because of her gender, just as she wasn’t gifted the office of PGA Secretary back in 2014. A natural leader with a charm and magnetism that comes through both on screen and in person, Whaley has been recognized by numerous organizations as one of the top-50 instructors in America. She was the Connecticut PGA Teacher of the Year twice and has coached more than 300 juniors into college golf. She also played on the LPGA Tour in 1990 and 1993 and was an on-course commentator for ESPN’s coverage of the LPGA from 2004 through 2006.
“Having Suzy in that position (as PGA President) showed everyone that they could do it,” Barnard said. “She opened doors. I got to stand on the putting green with her as she presented the trophy (to Sei Young Kim) at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and I just felt the connection between the LPGA and the PGA there, that link. We’re all in this together. We’re all trying to do the same things.”
Whaley was a national officer at the first KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Westchester Country Club (won by Inbee Park) and she handed the trophy to fellow LPGA members twice – first to Hannah Green at Hazeltine National and again this month to Kim at Aronimink.
“To be able to host an event like that on a venue like Aronimink and see them play at that level was just amazing,” Whaley said. “It has become the players’ absolute favorite championship. They tell us that constantly. A big part of that is because we have worked from the very beginning to deliver the same experience to the players in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship that the men have at the PGA Championship. That is because of (PGA Chief Championships Officer) Kerry Haigh. He has been so devoted to showcasing these magnificent venues in a way that brings out the very best in the best players in the women’s game.
“For the six years since I first started as Secretary until now, to be there at the first KPMG Women’s PGA Championship through what we just saw at Aronimink, that’s an important legacy for me,” Whaley added. “To see it grow. To see it become what it has become. To see the commitment and see what KPMG has done with it – not just with the commitment to the championship but to the Women’s Leadership Summit, which is the premier leadership event in the country – I couldn’t be happier to have been a part of that.”
She consistently deflects praise, giving shoutouts to staff and other officers. But her contributions can’t be overstated. Whaley was part of the team that decided to move the PGA of America headquarters to Texas, among the officers who worked with San Francisco and the state of California to reschedule the PGA Championship, and she was engaged in the process of postponing the Ryder Cup from 2020 until 2021.
But the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the bond she helped solidify between the PGA of America and the LPGA could be her most lasting legacy.
“It was a beautifully run event. Even without fans, it felt big,” Barnard said. “Just the feel and at the end when everyone was waiting for the winner, there was a power in the air, a sense that this was a big deal. Standing on the putting green with her, I was so proud to be there with another woman. Suzy is an incredible leader.
“When I first went on the (PGA) board, I knew that we needed to work closely (with the LPGA) because I knew the education I had received at the LPGA and what I’d received at the PGA, and I knew how they mirrored each other,” Whaley said. “I knew that we had a great opportunity to learn from each other.
“To see where that has led, not just with our close relationship but with the growth of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, I couldn’t be happier.”