INDIANAPOLIS – In a vote that lasted only 30 seconds, the PGA of America not only elected its first female officer in the history of the organization, Suzy Whaley, but also moved past the overhang of removing former president Ted Bishop just a month ago for insensitive and sexist remarks in a tweet.
On her 23rd wedding anniversary, Whaley’s ascension to the position of secretary – gained by earning 60 of 114 votes cast – put the 48-year-old mother of two in the unique position to be only the third woman to run a golf organization in the United States.
“I think the first female officer in the 98-year history of the association, I think it has to make a statement,” CEO of the PGA of America Pete Bevacqua said after the historic vote at the PGA’s annual meeting on Saturday. “I think the way Suzy was elected on the first ballot, I think it’s a powerful statement and great day for the PGA of America and a great day for the game.”
As an LPGA professional, accomplished teacher and entrepreneur, Whaley has broken ground for most of her career in a sport that historically has been dominated by males.
Her experience at the PGA of America has been varied as well. She has served in all levels of governance at the section and national levels within the organization and her rise to the secretary role will lead to the de facto elevation to the presidency of the organization in 2018. Then she will join Judy Bell, former president of the USGA, and Carolyn Bivens, former Commissioner of the LPGA, as the only other women who have had the top job in golf associations.
“I think it will happen naturally now,” PGA of America president Derek Sprague said of more women getting involved in golf and the organization because of Whaley’s influence. “Just because other women, those over 1,000 PGA professionals we have in our association, will look at Suzy as a role model, as a national leader and they’ll hopefully get involved at the chapter level, section level and maybe the national level.”
Of the 28,000 members of the PGA of America, roughly 1,100 – or just 4 percent – are women.
During the vote for secretary that took place on Saturday, just three of the 114 delegates eligible to vote were women.
“I can’t think of any reason there are so few,” Sprague said of why such a small amount of women belong to the organization. “But again, I think this will be great for the game, I think you will maybe see some young women at universities that want to become PGA professionals and see Suzy as a great role model for that.”
Whaley believes her vote was more that she was the best choice among the three eligible candidates and not that she was a woman.
At the same time, she understands that going forward, her gender will help the organization in areas of diversity and inclusion.
“I certainly think when you see people that look like you in a community and an environment, in a sport, in an activity, at a golf facility, it’s more welcoming,” Whaley said. “So I sure hope that people see that we are extremely passionate about, including women in the game of golf.”
As the PGA of America leaves Indianapolis, its message is one of continuing to grow a game that has been stagnant at best.
With Whaley now taking such a prominent role in the organization, the effect for the majority of the population can only be enhanced. Still, growing the game recently has been a struggle. Can Whaley’s election will make a significant difference?
“I have never felt like I wasn’t a member of this association because I was a female,” Whaley said. “But I think what it does say is we are really moving forward into the next 100 years and that we’re looking to be diverse, we’re looking to have more people play the game that perhaps don’t look the same as everybody in that room, that look like our communities, and for that to happen, certainly we need more female leaders, more minority leaders, more people at our golf facilities that look like our communities. Then we really have the opportunity to grow the sport.”