This week, American golfer Suzy Whaley becomes just the third woman to play in a men's golf tournament on the Professional Golfers' Tour as she competes in the Greater Hartford Open in Connecticut.
American Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias became the first woman to play in a men's professional tournament, competing at the Los Angeles Open in 1945. Annika Sorenstam of Sweden became the second just this year at The Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. Both women had received invitations to their respective events.
Thursday, American Suzy Whaley will tee off in the Greater Hartford Open (GHO) as the first woman to earn a spot in an official PGA tour event. The 36-year-old Whaley qualified by winning the Connecticut Section PGA Championship tournament in September. The winner of that tournament each year receives an exemption to the Greater Hartford Open.
It did not take long for people to wonder if she would appear in the men's event. "I literally was asked within 60 seconds whether I was going to play," Whaley recalled. "And I really answered, 'I have no idea. I will get back to you.'"
After qualifying, Whaley took three months to decide if she would play in the Greater Hartford Open. She announced on December 3 that she would.
Whaley is the head professional at the Blue Fox Run Golf Course in Avon, Connecticut. She is the defending and three-time consecutive winner of the Connecticut Women's Open and the winner of the 2002 LPGA Teaching and Club Pro Championship.
Whaley says she has been balancing her practice time while maintaining her duties as a full-time club professional, and says she has received nothing but support.
"I appreciate my job and my responsibilities there. But I also really want to play well at the GHO," she said.
Also supporting her is husband Bill. "I am proud of her," he said. "The PGA Tour is proud of her. She has taken the high road through the whole process. She has had a lot of different curve balls thrown at her. And she has always, as somebody said in Hartford, she has the best smile in the country."
Suzy Whaley won the qualifying tournament by playing from the women's tees, which are typically several meters in front of the men's tees. At the Greater Hartford Open, she will compete from the same tees as the other 155 contestants.
The TPC of River Highlands course in Cromwell, Connecticut measures 6,236 meters, far longer than what Whaley is used to playing. She is also not used to playing in front of a large audience. The Greater Hartford Open usually draws more than 300,000 spectators and is watched by millions of television viewers in over 140 countries worldwide. "If I can handle the media and the cameras and the crowd, and if I can, then I will play well. And if I don't, it's OK too," she said.
The first round of the 2003 Greater Hartford Open tees off on Thursday. The four-day event concludes on Sunday.