Kathy Whitworth is a legend. One of the greatest female golfers of our time. Her story intrigues me. Do you think the founders of golf ever envisioned a 15-year-old, tall, lanky girl from Jal, NM holding the record number of wins in professional golf for either men or women? Especially as, at its inception, golf was an acronym for Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden. Yet, Kathy Whitworth is the one with an unprecedented 88 tour wins over a 30-year career as an LPGA professional. She’s also a passionate, focused perfectionist, who is gracious, kind and as authentic as any role model we may want.
Her story began in Jal, NM. when some friends decided to go hit some golf balls and invited Kathy along. By all accounts a natural athlete at many other sports by that time, swinging the golf clubs was awkward for Kathy, but she became passionate and focused to master the sport. Kathy has said she felt so terrible at golf that she played by herself — hitting balls on the driving range for hours — for nearly a year. After that first year, her parents decided it was not a passing fancy and joined the country club so Kathy could play all the time.
Kathy soon joined the Jal Women’s Golf Association and would pay her own expenses but hitch a ride, sometimes several hundred miles, to tournaments with other members. After winning the New Mexico State Women’s Championship in 1957 and 1958, she got invited to play in exhibition matches. It was in these exhibition matches that Kathy would meet professional women golfers such as Betsy Rawls and Mickey Wright. Kathy just knew that professional golf was her calling. She will tell you today she didn’t really have a backup plan. With financial support from her family and other Jal benefactors, Kathy Whitworth began her LPGA rookie year in 1959, at the age of 19.
Kathy’s last tour win was 1985, her 88th victory, in the United Virginia Bank Classic. Of her journey through 30 years on the LPGA, Kathy said, “golf has given me a great opportunity to travel and to meet really outstanding, everyday, wonderful people.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, Kathy forged new opportunities for the instructional and active players of the LPGA. With her efforts alongside other LPGA professionals, the LPGA competition went international in 1990 with the birth of the women’s Solheim competition. This biennial competition would showcase the best European players against the best American players. Kathy put together a literal “Who’s Who” of American golfers for the inaugural event at Lake Nona, Fla. Kathy is often quoted as saying, “my hardest job was to choose what we would wear each day, and I screwed that up.” But nonetheless, the American team won that year with 11 ½ points over Team Europe’s 4 ½ points.
The awards, the wins, the second-place finishes, the sudden death playoffs — Kathy Whitworth continues to this day to offer leadership, strength and charitable contributions including being an Ambassador for the game of golf. But she’s also an active leadership developer for amateur women golfers. The Kathy Whitworth Invitational, started in 1999, provides 72 amateur women golfers an opportunity to play on a championship course, promote the love of golf, and learn leadership, sportsmanship and responsibility. At the same time, it supports The Boys and Girls Club.
As if that weren’t enough, Kathy Whitworth is an active participant with former President George W. Bush in the Wounded Warriors campaign. And she often serves as one of the LPGA golf Ambassadors in The Volunteers of America events.
What intrigues me the most about Kathy Whitworth? I’d say her absolute commitment to her craft. To play to win but be a good sport. To show up every day with a desire to be the best she can possibly be. To set the stage for other LPGA professionals and amateurs during her “second act” of golf. To willingly provide her time and her presence to any charitable event that requests. To be relentless in the pursuit to give back to golf what golf gave to her.
On September 27, 2019, Kathy Whitworth will turn 80-years-old. She’s had 60 years of playing golf better than most, owning the unbroken record of 88 wins, teaching golf as a top instructor, leading US Solheim Cup teams, providing amateurs a venue to excel in the Kathy Whitworth Invitational and showing up when asked.
May this inspire you to pursue your craft with equal determination, no matter what your age.
See this World Golf Hall of Fame Legend Kathy Whitworth honored alongside Suzy Whaley, PGA America President (the first woman to hold that role), at the Women in Play Luncheon, part of the Volunteers of America Classic Tournament Week, an official LPGA tour event. Celebrate Kathy’s 80th birthday by buying tickets for the Dallas event on Oct 2, 2019.
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