Suzy Whaley was sitting on the beach when she called. The inaugural Tar Heel Classic, hosted by Whaley, was set to start Friday and the PGA of America president was taking full advantage of her enviable office.
While the PGA Tour wrestled with TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course, 15 women’s college teams took on another Pete Dye masterpiece roughly 1,100 miles away in the Dominican Republic. For the past two years, Whaley has partnered with Casa de Campo Resort, hosting various events. Creating a women’s college tournament seemed a natural progression for Whaley, who wants to see the same principle that’s applied to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship filter down to the collegiate level.
“Our objective is to host golf tournaments on courses that are spectacular,” she said.
Dye’s seaside Teeth of the Dog fits the bill.
“Everyone is obsessed,” said Whaley’s youngest daughter, Kelly, a senior at North Carolina, of the feedback she heard among peers.
Jennifer Kupcho, the No. 1 amateur in the world, put Teeth of the Dog at the top of collegiate courses she has played in four years at Wake Forest.
The 2018 NCAA champion obliterated the field at the Tar Heel Classic hosted by Suzy Whaley, winning Saturday by nine shots with rounds of 66-69-67. Wake Forest took the team title in a similarly dominating fashion, outpacing Virginia by 19 strokes thanks to a closing round of 14-under 274.
The tournament was a family affair for the Whaleys as Kelly’s dad, Bill, served as a rules official. Her sister, Jenn, was there as an assistant coach for her alma mater, Quinnipiac.
While Suzy, who graduated from UNC in 1989, wants to elevate women’s golf in every way possible, she’s nostalgic when it comes to her time in school, particularly in the team van. There was no wifi, of course, and players bonded while doing homework on the floor. Sometimes she’d even get to drive.
“I think we had the greatest times in those vans,” she said.
Early on it looked like neither of the Whaley kids would take to golf like their parents. Kelly “hated it,” often crying twice per round while her mom told her to quit.
“It was reverse psychology,” Kelly said.
At age 11, she fell in love with the social aspect of the game and it fueled her competitive spirit. Jenn, who’d quit after a miserable tournament experience, got back on board to be with her sister.
Both Kelly and Suzy are feel players. Kelly shakes off a bad round better than her mom, according to Suzy, and loves it when the lights come on. She holds the record at UNC for low 54-hole score (12-under 204).
“Kelly is better than I was,” Suzy said matter-of-factly, “which is great.”
Kelly was 6 when her mother became the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to qualify for a PGA Tour event at the 2003 Greater Hartford Open. She remembers being there, but not much else.
Kelly’s still fascinated by it, like how her mom even made contact on that first tee shot on such a pressure-packed stage. Suzy said she popped it up 200 yards and made double.
“Even if things go wrong,” said Kelly, “you can still inspire.”
Before the competition started at Casa de Campo, Suzy talked to the field about the opportunities that exist in golf beyond the LPGA. Kelly aims to give Qualifying School a shot later this year, but she said the message resonated with players who are uncertain about what comes next.
The day Suzy was elected the first female president in the 102-year history of the PGA, Kelly almost missed it.
“They shut the doors as I ran in,” said Kelly, who rushed to the Annual Meeting last November in an Uber after her cross-country flight was delayed.
It’s not every day that mom makes history.
Kelly felt more pressure growing up with the name Whaley but used it as motivation to try and beat mom’s records. She reminds herself frequently that she can make her own path.
“I want to show young girls that, like her, they can do whatever they want,” said Kelly.
In that regard, mom set the bar high. Gwk