Wha­ley set to be PGA of Amer­ica pres­i­dent

The Sacramento Bee - - Sports - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

Two mo­ments of dis­crim­i­na­tion took place

1,000 miles and worlds apart, nei­ther point­ing to Suzy Wha­ley mak­ing his­tory this week at the PGA of Amer­ica.

Wha­ley was just get­ting hooked on golf in Syra­cuse, New York, and she was good enough to com­pete in tour­na­ments when her name was scratched off the en­try list of a ju­nior tour­na­ment for boys be­cause she was a girl.

“And now I’ve played in a PGA Tour event,” said Wha­ley, who at the 2003 Greater Hart­ford Open be­came the first woman in

58 years to qual­ify for a PGA Tour event. “Look how far we’ve gone. It’s not where we need to be, but we’re mak­ing progress. And that makes me smile.”

Around the time Wha­ley had her first whiff of dis­crim­i­na­tion as a young girl, Bar­rie Nai­smith Jef­f­coat was work­ing at a golf club in At­lanta as a 29-year-old woman who was giv­ing lessons and go­ing nowhere.

She hired young men to han­dle the carts and pick up golf balls from the range. Some of them went on to be­come PGA pro­fes­sion­als and got jobs at other clubs.

She couldn’t join the PGA as a cer­ti­fied pro be­cause she was a woman.

“Some­thing was wrong with this pic­ture,” Nai­smith Jef­f­coat said in a tele­phone in­ter­view Mon­day from her home in Vir­ginia. “At the time I was giv­ing lessons to Su­pe­rior Court Judge (Joel) Fryer. He gave me the name of his at­tor­ney. The at­tor­ney ad­vised me to call the PGA. I got a lawyer on the phone with the PGA and he told me, ‘You can call Jimmy Carter, but it won’t do you any good.’ ”

In­stead of call­ing the pres­i­dent, she filed a law­suit against the PGA in 1978. By the end of the year, the PGA signed the Nai­smith Con­sent De­gree, giv­ing women equal rights to be­come PGA pro­fes­sion­als. Nai­smith be­came the first fe­male mem­ber on Feb. 1, 1979.

She stayed with the PGA a few more years, yet the im­pact will be felt strong­est this week at the PGA of Amer­ica’s an­nual meet­ing in Cal­i­for­nia.

Wha­ley is set to be­come the first fe­male pres­i­dent in its 102-year his­tory.

“I’m so thrilled she'll have a high pro­file,” said Nai­smith Jef­f­coat, who has never met Wha­ley. “There will be a lot of young women that will take up the game and want to be in­volved. It’s very ex­cit­ing to me to see it come to fruition.”

Wha­ley is a con­sen­sus­builder, per­haps her great­est as­set.

She is fore­most a golf pro­fes­sional, still giv­ing pri­vate lessons at Suzy Wha­ley Golf, the course she owns in Cromwell, Con­necti­cut, and serv­ing as PGA direc­tor of in­struc­tion at the Coun­try Club of Mi­ra­sol in Palm Beach Gar­dens, Florida, dur­ing the win­ter months. Her hus­band, Bill, was her first golf coach. Both her daugh­ters played in col­lege.

“My strength would be that I love the game of golf. I want to get clubs in peo­ple’s hands,” said Wha­ley, re­cently cer­ti­fied as a mas­ter pro­fes­sional. “My vi­sion for the mem­ber­ship is to help en­hance their ca­reers. How can we get them re­sources and tools to go where they want to go?”

She also rec­og­nizes the his­toric oc­ca­sion of the an­nual meet­ing Fri­day, and she doesn’t take it lightly.

“It’s def­i­nitely his­toric, and I’m hon­ored and com­pletely grate­ful the mem­ber­ship has that faith and trust,” she said. “I look at my­self as a PGA pro­fes­sional first. Ob­vi­ously, I’m a woman. I un­der­stand the moniker. There are women who have paved the way be­fore me.”

One was Re­nee Powell, who last year was in­ducted into the PGA of Amer­ica Hall of Fame. An­other was Sue Fis­coe, who ran un­suc­cess­fully for na­tional of­fice at the PGA in 2012, which mo­ti­vated Wha­ley to run her­self two years later.

Wha­ley rose to na­tional promi­nence when she won the Con­necti­cut PGA sec­tion in 2002, earn­ing a spot in the Greater Hart­ford Open. That’s what in­spired An­nika Soren­stam to say she would ac­cept an in­vi­ta­tion to a PGA Tour event, which she re­ceived within weeks at the Colo­nial. Soren­stam played two months be­fore Wha­ley.

Her name recog­ni­tion might have re­ceived a boost when weeks be­fore Wha­ley’s elec­tion as sec­re­tary in 2014, Ted Bishop was ousted as PGA pres­i­dent for call­ing Ian Poul­ter a “Lil girl” dur­ing a so­cial me­dia rant.

But while Nai­smith Jef­f­coat caused con­ster­na­tion in some cir­cles – af­ter she joined the PGA of Amer­ica, two men threat­ened to sue to join the LPGA – Wha­ley re­ceived

53 per­cent of the votes from PGA del­e­gates, only three of whom were women, and won elec­tion by

19 per­cent­age points. Af­ter two years as sec­re­tary and two years as vice pres­i­dent, it’s time for the

51-year-old Wha­ley to lead the 29,000 men and women at the PGA of Amer­ica. She didn’t want to be pres­i­dent be­cause she’s a woman.

She still un­der­stands the mo­ment in front of her.

“I wanted to have a seat at the ta­ble, a voice in the room,” she said. “I didn’t look at it as male or fe­male. I felt I had some­thing to con­trib­ute. That doesn’t mean it’s not dif­fi­cult. It’s an enor­mous op­por­tu­nity for equal­ity, and to show­case to women what they can do. Golf is an $84 bil­lion in­dus­try we want to con­trib­ute to.”

STEVE MILLER AP

Suzy Wha­ley is set to be the first fe­male pres­i­dent of the PGA of Amer­ica.

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