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Whaley will be first woman playing in a PGA Tour event
by Noreen Gillespie


Suzy Whaley has two young daughters who like to mimic her swing on the golf course. She may soon be a role model for many other girls. The 36-year-old golf pro has accepted an invitation to play in the Greater Hartford Open, a decision that will make her first woman to play in a PGA Tour event.

Whaley qualified for the GHO by winning the PGA Connecticut Sectional in September.

"I took a long time to make this decision," Whaley said Tuesday. "I understand the historical implications of this decision, and the importance it has for women golfers."

In the qualifier, Whaley hit from tees 10 percent shorter than the men's. With her mother as her caddie and her husband as her coach, she shot a 1-under-71 in the final round to win the tournament.

She will have to play from the same tees as the men at the GHO, adding about 700 yards to her game.

"It's a lot longer than I'm used to playing," said Whaley, who has played on the LPGA Tour. "I'm going to do it anyway. I'm going to do it the best I possibly can, and that's going to have to be good enough."

Whaley's decision comes at a time when women's issues have become a focal point in the game. The National Council of Women's Organizations is fighting with the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, over the club's refusal to allow women as members.

Whaley said she's had nothing but support from the PGA Tour.

"Suzy has notified the tour of her intentions to play," PGA Tour spokesman Bob Combs said. "As we've said all along, if she chose to play we'd be delighted to welcome her as a contestant, and we look forward to having her in the field at next year's event."

The LPGA voiced its approval.

"Suzy continues to add firsts to her resume and makes the LPGA proud to have her in our organization," LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw said.

When she earned the invitation, several PGA players also expressed their support.

"It's great for her. It's going to be quite an experience," Tiger Woods said Tuesday. "It's pretty obvious it's going to get a lot of media attention. I don't think the Hartford tournament is going to be against that.

"There's going to be a lot of people following her. I truly hope she goes out there and plays well. I know she's going to enjoy her time. As a competitor, she wants to play well."

Asked if he planned to play Hartford or duck Whaley, Woods smiled and said, "We'll see."

But some are questioning her ability to succeed in what will undoubtedly be a bright media spotlight.

"Unfortunately, I think it might be looked upon by the media as a sideshow," said PGA champion Rich Beem. "I wish her well. But I also feel sorry for her because there's going to be so much scrutiny around her."

Whaley will work with sports psychologist Richard Coop to prepare for the tournament. Coop, who has worked with several PGA Tour golfers and other professional athletes, has known Whaley since the late 1980s when she played for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"If they could pick out a person with the personality to do this, I think it would be Suzy," said Richard Coop, a sports psychologist. "She may surprise some people. I don't think she'll embarrass herself."

The GHO will be held July 21-27 at the TPC at River Highlands in Cromwell, where Whaley's husband, Bill, is the general manager.

The future of the tournament was in doubt for much of the fall until organizers cobbled together enough support from corporate sponsors and the state to acquire the $4 million needed to stage the event.

"From the moment she qualified, we thought that it would be great to have a woman golf professional play in the GHO," tournament chairman Dan Baker said. "She's a competitor and a player, and she can get the ball in the hole very well."

At home, where the phones have been ringing off the hook since September, the family is trying to keep things in perspective, Bill Whaley said.

When the couple told their eldest daughter, 8-year-old Jennifer, that her mother was playing in a men's tournament, she made a simple observation.

"She said, 'It's not the men's tournament anymore, because Mommy's playing there,' We're trying to get that simplistic ourselves," Bill Whaley said.

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