Kathy Whitworth was 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.
Kathy Whitworth’s Beginnings
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 Whitworth’s Inspiring Stats
- Secured 35 of her 88 total LPGA tour wins between 1965 and 1968 Kathy
- Recorded 11 Holes in One
- Associated Press Athlete of the Year in 1965 and 1967
- LPGA Player of the Year in 1966-69 and 1971-73.
- “Golfer of the Decade” – GOLF Magazine 1968. Kathy has been
- Inducted into 5 Halls of Fame:
- LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame
- Texas Sports Hall of Fame
- New Mexico Hall of Fame
- Women Sports Foundation Hall of Fame
- Legends Hall of Fame.
- President of LPGA, along with holding every other position
- PGA First Lady of Golf In 2006
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 was an active participant with former President George W. Bush in the Wounded Warriors campaign. And she often served 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 December 25th, Kathy Whitworth died suddenly. 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 Kathy Whitworth’s life inspire you to pursue your craft with equal determination, no matter what your age.