Fairfield, Connecticut (July 29, 2021) – On Thursday night at The Patterson Club Suzy Whaley became the 96th member of the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame.
“When you get an honor like this, it’s a dream come true,” Whaley said. “It’s incredibly humbling and also makes you reflect on some of the things that you had the opportunity to do and afforded you the opportunity to make a difference. Why it’s so special is that it’s a culmination of everything, not just one thing.”
Whaley and Connecticut golf are synonymous. But it was a life-changing moment in her childhood hometown of Syracuse, New York that set the foundation for her golf career. When Whaley was 9-years-old splashing around in the swimming pool of the club her family belonged to some of the boys decided they were going to go to the driving range. Still in her bathing suit, she headed over to the range to join them.
“I walked across the parking lot and began hitting balls, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to do that,” Whaley fondly recalled. “The golf pro got my mom off the course because I was dressed inappropriately, but as my mom drove up – this is the epitome of how incredible she was – instead of being angry with me, all she said was, ‘Do you like this?’ I said, ‘Yeah, this is fun.’ And she said, ‘Well, let’s go get you an outfit.’ That, to me, was a moment in time that changed my whole life. From that moment on, I was a range rat, became my mom’s golf pal and we played as much as we could.”
Whaley played college golf at the University of North Carolina and on the LPGA Tour in 1990 and 1993 before spending some time at home following the birth of her oldest daughter Jennifer. In 1996 she began working for renowned golf instructor Jim Flick at Ibis Country Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, where her husband Bill was the Director of Golf. One year later in May of 1997, her youngest daughter Kelly was born and then on July 4th, the family was off to Connecticut after the PGA Tour sent Bill to TPC River Highlands.
After taking time to settle into her new home Whaley visited five Hartford area golf courses in early 1998 in search of a job and by the time she returned home she had five offers waiting for her. The best offer came from Tumble Brook Country Club so she accepted and became a teaching pro at the club while also teaching once a week at Blue Fox Run Golf Course. During the same time frame from 1999-2001, she also taught at TPC River Highlands and Torza’s Driving Range in Cromwell while working towards her PGA of America Class A card. Once she earned her card a new opportunity presented itself and in February of 2002, she became the head professional at Blue Fox Run.
2002 was also the year that Whaley achieved national recognition when she became the first woman to capture a PGA individual tournament. Her victory at the 2002 PGA Connecticut Section Championship earned her a spot in the 2003 Greater Hartford Open, making her the first woman to qualify for a PGA Tour event since Babe Zaharias in 1945. During the 2002 season, Whaley also won the second of her three consecutive Connecticut Women's Open championships.
Whaley’s career led her to the PGA of America Board of Directors where in 2014 she became the first female to hold a position when she was elected as Secretary. Whaley also became the first member of the PGA Connecticut Section to be elected to a national board position.
Her election as Secretary put Whaley on the path to becoming the first female President of the PGA of America assuming the position in 2018. During her tenure, Whaley introduced the inaugural OMEGA Women’s PGA Player of the Year Award, continued the growth of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and created the Girls Junior PGA Championship.
Thursday night's induction ceremony began with opening remarks from Bill Wallace the Vice President of the CSGA and also the Chair of the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame committee. Following the welcome by Wallace, a congratulatory video from new USGA CEO Mike Whan was played.
“Not many of us can say that we have left the game better than we have found it. You my friend are leaving the game better than you found it,” said Whan during his message. “I am so glad that the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame understands that. I am really proud of you, I am really proud to call you my friend and I am honored to have been a little part of this program. I wish I was there to hug you but please from the entire United States Golf Association and the Ladies Professional Golf Association thank you for being our friend, being our leader and leaving this game so much better than you found it.”
Following the video came remarks from The Patterson Club head professional and MET Section PGA President Christopher Kenney. CSGA Executive Director Mike Moraghan spoke next and talked about how when he took over as the organization's executive director he was told that Whaley was the first PGA professional he should call.
PGA Life Member and Connecticut Golf Hall of Famer Gary Reynolds followed. Reynolds was the campaign manager when Whaley was elected as PGA of America Secretary in 2014. After Reynolds, a video highlighting Whaley’s career in golf produced by the PGA of America played. The video opened with clips from Whaley’s appearance in the 2003 Greater Hartford Open (GHO) and chronicled everything from how she started playing the game to the end of her tenure as the President of the PGA of America in 2020.
“Playing in the GHO gave me a platform for the growth of women everywhere. I’m as competitive as anyone, but it wasn’t about being first or making the cut. It was so much more than that. It gave me a door to walk through and a lot more to do. It showed my daughters (Jen and Kelly, now competing on the Symetra Tour) and other young girls to take chances and be brave, no matter what the outcome was to be, and really work hard to get there,” Whaley said in the video.
During her speech Whaley offered special thanks for her success including Connecticut Golf Hall of Famer Bruce Berlet, her husband Bill, her daughters Jennifer and Kelly, her late mother, Mary Ann McGuire, who started her in the game and often caddied for her; PGA Life Member Walter Lowell, who initiated the idea of having women in the PGA of America in 1978 and was named PGA Professional of the Year; Hall of Fame member Betty Boyko, who was instrumental in the founding of the Southern New England Women’s Golf Association and Connecticut Women’s Amateur Championship; longtime Connecticut Section PGA executive director Tom Hankte; PGA Professional Joe Tesori who gave her lessons when she was young and hired her for her first job in golf and PGA Life Member and Hall of Famer Gary Reynolds, the campaign manager of the 25-person team that initially worked to get her elected at the annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.