Suzy Whaley, who recently became the first woman in history to serve as the president of the PGA of America, remembers the first time she hit a golf ball. She was 9 years old, hanging out at the Cavalry Club in Manlius, New York, where she had just spent a few hours swimming with friends.
“Some of the boys from the pool invited me to hit golf balls at the range with them,” she says. “But of course, I was in my swimsuit, which wasn’t allowed. Once the staff called my mom and she arrived, she didn’t scold me. Instead, she asked if I liked playing, and from that moment on, no one could get me off the course unless it was snowing.”
Whaley’s mother, Mary Ann McGuire, was an avid golfer, but never pushed the sport on her daughter. Growing up, Whaley was active in all activities, from skiing to swimming. But once she discovered golf, something about the sport was different.
“Golf is a huge family affair,” she says. “Maybe it was in my blood. What I do know is my mother, who was an amazing woman, is a big part of why I started playing.”
Whaley challenged the status quo as the first girl to compete on the boys’ golf team at Jamesville-DeWitt High School near Syracuse, New York, and went on to receive a full scholarship to play golf at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where she studied economics.
“I was actually going to enroll in law school after graduation,” she says. “But then I qualified for a PGA event, and I played well enough to gain attention from sponsors. And well, now the rest is history.”
Whaley, 52, has hit many more milestones, including becoming the first woman since the legendary Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945 to qualify for a PGA Tour event—the 2003 Greater Hartford Open. She was the 370th PGA professional (and the ninth woman) to acquire her certification as a PGA Master Professional, which is the highest educational level offered by the organization. She is also the first woman to ever serve as an officer of the PGA of America, where she previously held roles of secretary and vice president before her appointment as 41st president.
“I wouldn’t have these opportunities without the women who came before me who made it all possible,” she says. “I really truly credit that to my success. You can’t underestimate that power, so while I’m the first, there were many others who opened these doors.”
In addition to her role as PGA president, Whaley acts as the PGA director of instruction at the Country Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens.
“I actually took up the post right around the same time as I was made president,” she says. “My husband and I were living in Fort Lauderdale and decided to move up to Palm Beach. Over the last couple of years as an officer, I missed the opportunity to coach and teach.”
Whaley is also the owner of Suzy Whaley Golf, an organization that offers golf programs and corporate programs. Women and girls represent only about a quarter of all golfers, but Whaley’s leadership is poised to positively advance female representation in the sport for generations to come.
“The sport has evolved so much from when I was a young girl,” she says. “I played with all boys, and now you have girls in high school playing on their own teams. But we’re still not where we need to be. I want more [people of diversities] to be introduced and invited to play the game. Perhaps in 10 years’ time, we’ll look even more different on golf courses, at least that’s what we’re aiming for.”