Nichols: A toast to Kathy Whitworth, the world's easiest interview

LPGA/Gabe Roux

Nichols: A toast to Kathy Whitworth, the world's easiest interview

LPGA Tour

Nichols: A toast to Kathy Whitworth, the world's easiest interview

By

THE COLONY, TEXAS – The Golf Channel’s Lisa Cornwell hosted a birthday luncheon for Kathy Whitworth at the Volunteers of America Classic and discovered that it doesn’t take much to prepare for a sit-down with the LPGA legend. Cornwell asked one question and then sat back and listened as Whitworth rolled from story to another until they broke open the champagne for a celebratory toast

At 80 years old, Whitworth can recall with great detail everything from her first lesson with Harvey Penick (they spent three days on the grip) to the amount of her first check ($33).

A word of advice: If given the chance, sit down and listen to every word of Whitworth’s remarkable life.

She spent her actual birthday, Sept. 27, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where friends threw a surprise party at Ventana Gallery on Canyon Road. The celebrations continued on throughout the next week, when Nancy Lopez, Renee Powell, Suzy Whaley and Judy Rankin were among those gathered to salute the winningest player in all of golf.

“If I knew 80 was going to be so much fun,” Whitworth told well-wishers, “I’d have done it last year.”

Records are meant to be broken, Whitworth says of her 88 victories. She broke Mickey Wright’s and Sam Snead’s record of 82. She loves that Tiger Woods’ Masters triumph reignited the conversation of whether hers will ever be matched. Woods, of course, has 81.

As Whitworth made her way to the clubhouse on Thursday, she gave a lesson near the parking lot to someone on the LPGA staff. Spend any time with Whitworth talking about the golf swing and she’ll preach the importance of the first foot.

Kathy Whitworth (LPGA/Gabe Roux)

“If you just make that first foot, not mechanical, just make that first part of the swing start slow as you can make it, without getting too occupied with it,” said Whitworth, “that is going to help you immeasurably.”

That lesson came from Penick, who told a 17-year-old Whitworth to take the club back like she was getting paid by the hour and not the job.

When Whitworth tells the story, she wrinkles up her brow and pauses: “I’d never had a job before. What’s he talking about?”

Whitworth likes to talk about how she almost quit after that first year on tour. A conversation with her mom and dad at the kitchen table coupled with a quote she read from Betsy Rawls – “I always work harder for an 80 than I do a 70” – turned everything around.

She learned how to grind out the bad rounds and turn them into good. A seven-time Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winner, Whitworth finished second 95 times.

Whaley found herself so awestruck playing alongside Whitworth once on the LPGA that she couldn’t bring herself to hit before the Hall of Famer, saying “after you” throughout the round.

“I shot 84,” said Whaley. “It was the most awkward 18 holes of my life. I couldn’t talk for like a week.”

On the dais in Texas, Whitworth turned to Whaley and said, “Mickey Wright wanted me to tell you hello.”

A chuffed Whaley nearly popped.

Kudos to Mike King, CEO of the VOA, and Mike Whan, LPGA commish, for continuing to celebrate the women who made this all possible. For giving us the chance to listen and learn.

“I think Kathy would tell you, and I know I will tell you,” said Rankin, “you have no idea you’re pioneering. You have no idea you’re riding along in a covered wagon. You’re just going day by day, trying to do what you do the best you can do it.”

Whaley opened up her remarks by telling those in the room who might be newer to the game that being in the presence of Whitworth is like being near Jack Nicklaus or the late Arnold Palmer.

This is a woman who helped pave the way for Whaley to become the PGA of America’s first female president.

And while Whitworth’s stories of using a “putting ball” on the greens in west Texas when her balata got out of round were among the memorable takeaways, Cornwell’s closing remarks trumped all the records and remember-whens.

Cornwell recalled that the night before at another celebratory dinner, Powell told a story from 50 years ago when players arrived at an LPGA stop and discovered that the official hotel had “lost” Powell’s reservation. Powell was the second African-American to play on the LPGA after Althea Gibson.

“Either she stays,” Whitworth told hotel employees, “or we all go.”

The humble woman behind all the records can’t be celebrated enough.

Latest

More Golfweek
Home