The LPGA Women’s Network has partnered with FORAY GOLF, a company redefining golf apparel for modern women and their unique expressions of style, to celebrate the women who are challenging the status quo in golf.
The Women Beyond Par series puts a spotlight on the pioneers who are growing the game for all girls and women and blazing trails to accomplish their dreams.
Seven months before becoming the 41st president of the PGA of America, Suzy Whaley was in Los Angeles speaking to an audience about promoting golf among women. From the moment she stepped onto the stage, Whaley commanded the room with her positivity, inviting smile, and clear passion for the game. Her enthusiasm for golf was infectious. When she finished her speech, there was an undeniable energy in the room—as if everyone wanted to jump from their seats, grab their clubs, and head to the nearest golf course.
Whaley’s undeniable passion for golf helped shape her career and propel her towards becoming the first-ever female PGA of America president in the 102-year history of the organization. As president, Whaley is responsible for overseeing one of the largest sports organizations in the world, representing 29,000 PGA professionals nationwide.
Whaley believes being the first female president is a humbling experience and the historical significance isn’t something she takes for granted.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the brave women before me, like the Renee Powells, the Alice Dyes, LPGA Tour players, and LPGA Founders,” Whaley said. “There were a lot of women before me who are holding me up.”
Long before Whaley was elected president, she was just a little girl, growing up in Connecticut who fell in love with a game. Golf contained all the elements she enjoyed most—being outdoors, competing, and spending one-on-one time with her mom, who gave Whaley possibly the best advice of her entire career.
“My mom didn’t put barriers on me, but also didn’t treat me like Pollyanna,” Whaley said. “When I failed or didn’t do well, she’d say: ‘Well what are you going to do about it? Did you prepare as best you could? Let’s keep going and work on the journey of your own self-improvement’. That message became incredibly strong with the challenges I faced in my career and on the course.”
One of those challenges was in 2003 when Whaley qualified for the Greater Hartford Open, becoming the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to qualify for a PGA Tour event. Her decision to play garnered national media attention, and through it all Whaley stayed positive and focused on playing great golf. She wanted to show her young daughters the same values her parents taught her: prepare the best you can and keep going.
“I wanted my daughters to see that I wasn’t going to fear an opportunity way outside my comfort zone,” Whaley said. “I also wanted women to have support in the game. It brought a lot of attention to women’s golf; it needed it and it still needs it, and I’m proud to have been a part of that story.”
On November 8, 2018, her story entered a new chapter as president of PGA of America. Whaley said she plans to continue the initiatives launched by PGA of America in recent years, which focus on areas such as diversity, career development opportunities, and growing the game.
“We’re taking intentional steps to make sure in the long term we look more like the communities we serve,” Whaley said. “We’ve talked about it for years, but now we have intentional practices in hopes of truly making an impact.”
Some of those initiatives include the PGA Junior League, which introduces juniors to the game in a fun, team setting. The PGA also partnered with KPMG in 2016 to launch the Future Leaders Program, awarding 20 female high school seniors from low-income areas with college scholarships and mentorship opportunities each year.
The PGA is also working to recruit more female PGA members, who currently make up just four percent of the 29,000 members nationwide.
“It’s really important to ensure that young collegiate golfers—men and women—understand the opportunities they have within this $84 billion industry, such as executive management, ownership, IT, accounting and finance,” Whaley said. “We’re working hard to diversify our membership, the workforce within our staff, and procurement for championships.”
Even with PGA of America presidential responsibilities taking her around the country for meetings, Whaley continues to teach almost every day and serves as the PGA director of instruction at the Country Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, as well as the director of instruction at Suzy Whaley Golf in Cromwell, CT.
How does she balance three jobs? Whaley’s day begins between 4:45 and 5am when she starts with a three-mile run, then knocks out some administrative work before heading to the club to teach lessons intermittent with meetings until about 5pm. Afterwards, she usually heads to speaking engagement or the airport to travel for a meeting.
At the end of the day, it’s about sharing her passion for the game with others. As the old adage goes: Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.
“Growing up, golf was about the joy of what I was doing then,” Whaley said. “I still love to play golf because I find great joy in it, and I also love to compete. I’ve always loved to compete no matter what I’m doing, and in golf, you don’t need tournament, just go out and play against yourself.”
Whaley found her love for golf as a kid and never looked back. Now she’s at the helm of the PGA of America and sharing her passion for golf with others, the future of the game is in good hands.