Whaley draws inspiration from her mother
ORLANDO, Fla. –– Kelly Whaley walked 90 holes of golf in the heat of the Florida summer, all in a span of four days.
But as she walked up and down the course she had a companion shadowing her steps just off the fairway – her mother, Suzy.
Suzy Whaley attracted the national spotlight when she qualified for the 2003 Greater Hartford Open, becoming the first woman to qualify and participate in a PGA Tour event in 58 years.
Kelly Whaley was just six then, but she’s heard about it plenty of times growing up.
“I’d always hear the story about her first hole – I think I’ve heard it a thousand times – how she made double [bogey] and thousands were watching her,” Whaley said. “And how whenever I’ll make double or a big number, she’ll say, ‘Oh, whatever, I’m the one who made double. It’s no big deal.’
“It really stuck in my mind, because she still shot 75, so she came back. It didn’t really affect her.”
Suzy Whaley serves now, primarily, as a professional instructor and mother of two. Walking the course, she sticks to the latter.
“Making sure she hydrates, making sure she rests, just simple things that any mom – not just because I’m a coach – really tries to get them to do,” Whaley said. “For her, Kelly is a big feel player, there’s not a lot of technical advice I would ever give her. She reacts to the target better than anything, so for me to say you’re doing this wrong or you’re doing that wrong, it would actually deter her from playing her best.”
Kelly Whaley, 16, and her sister, Jenn, have both played golf competitively for years, but they weren’t forced into the sport by their parents.
“My husband and I always talked about it, because he is a golf professional too, so we always knew they would learn how to play,” Suzy Whaley said. “We just really wanted them to like it, and you can’t force that on anybody.
“Teaching them to play when they were little was unforgettable and something that we will always cherish. For them to become the golfers they are – we know how hard it is to get to that level and how much it takes – we’re just incredibly proud of them.”
As for Whaley’s 90-hole marathon, the first step was a partial success. Whaley finished in a tie for second at the International Junior Golf Tour’s Bridgestone Golf Tournament of Champions on May 27.
After three rounds at the Grand Cypress Resort’s New Course, Whaley made the short trip to Heathrow, Fla. to play 36 holes in a U.S. Women’s Open Qualifier on May 28.
The results there weren’t as positive. Whaley finished in a tie for 51st at 14-over-par.
But for the Connecticut native, success at the junior tournament trumps the chance to qualify.
“Qualifying is pressure, but you have a lot of holes. With a tournament, there’s more pressure, you have a chance to win or be on top,” Whaley said. “With a qualifier, it’s great if you make it, but it’s not a necessity.”
That attitude doesn’t characterize Whaley, whom Suzy Whaley says takes after her in more ways than one.
“Her competitiveness, her fire in her belly, her sense of not giving up, her friendliness and her stick-to-it attitude,” Whaley said. “She’s going to be incredible because she’s not going to let a day like today get her down.
“Something she has that I never had is the ability to bounce back. She doesn’t carry over bad rounds of bad memories and she moves on. I think that’s a tremendous gift in this game.”
Kelly Whaley will keep looking to bounce back, just like her mom nearly 10 years ago.