Suzy Whaley, PGA's First Female President, On Bringing Inclusivity To Golf
Growing up in Syracuse, N.Y., Susan Whaley played golf on a boys' high school team. Title IX had given her and other young women athletes more opportunities. Still, because she was a girl, Whaley was barred from competing in the team's tournaments.
"That just was a sign of the times — it just is how it was," she says. "And then fast-forward ... and I am allowed to play in a PGA Tour event."
Whaley became the first woman in 58 years to qualify for a PGA tournament when she made the 2003 Greater Hartford Open. The athlete broke her latest barrier this past weekend when she was elected president of PGA of America, the first woman to hold the position in the association's 102-year history. Just 40 years ago, women couldn't even be members.
"Obviously the historic nature of it doesn't go past me," she says. "I'm so honored and grateful to have that chance, and to have the trust of my 29,000 members and peers."
For Whaley — who also serves as the PGA director of instruction at the Country Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. — being elected was never about being a trailblazer: "It's always been about wanting to play the game."
That said, it doesn't hurt being an inspiration to women who want to play a sport known for its exclusivity.
"We still need more women playing the game, and to feel welcome at playing the game," she says. "If young women can see themselves in the business because they see me in the role — as I saw other women before me who opened the doors for me — then in that sense I'm thrilled to be a woman in the job."
In an interview with NPR's Ailsa Chang, Whaley expands on the challenges she has faced, and on her visions for the future of professional golf.
This interview includes Web-only excerpts.
On the large gender gap in prize money between the PGA and LPGA tours
It is a large disparity. And, you know, the LPGA Tour has become global for many reasons. You know, we have amazing female golfers from all over the world participating now in the game at the highest level. And oftentimes many of their purses overseas sometimes are even higher than they are domestically [not for the U.S. Open and not for the KPMG women's PGA championship]. A lot of it has to do with television dollars and digital-rights dollars and worldwide sponsors.
On how to fix that imbalance
We need more women and more men to watch ladies' golf. We need them to turn the channel on; we need them to buy into the fact that these are the best athletes in the world. ... What I try to share with the people I teach and coach, and the people that I'm around in the industry, is oftentimes the women's game is much more compatible to that of a really strong club player — and I don't mean that with disrespect. ...
A lot of people can relate to their swing speeds. A lot of people can learn from them by watching them play. They have shots around the greens that they have to have, because oftentimes they aren't hitting short irons in like some of the men are. And oftentimes that's comparable to people who are playing the game at clubs around the country and at daily fee facilities around the country.
And once somebody goes to an LPGA event, once somebody goes to the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, they're hooked! They are hooked on women's golf.
On how to grow the sport's diversity
With scholarship opportunities to our [PGA Golf Management] universities that we have 19 of around the country. And we're making strides — it's not fast enough, but we're making strides. ... I learned from a male golf professional, and I loved that, but there are many people who prefer to be with somebody that looks like them when they first get started in something new. And if we can have that opportunity for more people we will make greater strides.
We have PGA junior league, which is a huge evolving program of 50,000 boys and girls across the country playing PGA junior league golf. They play together — boys and girls from the same tee. ... We have close to 35 percent girls playing — we want it to be 50, but we're getting there — and then we have almost 25 percent of those of color playing.
Gustavo Contreras and Jessica Smith produced this story for broadcast.
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