INDIANAPOLIS — Suzy Whaley is taking another crack at golf’s old boy’s network.
More than one decade after becoming the first woman to qualify for a PGA event in 58 years, the 48-year-old Whaley became the first female officer in the PGA of America’s history. She’s on course to become the organization’s first female president in 2018, too.
Whaley received 52.63 percent of the 114 votes in a three-way race for secretary near the end of Saturday’s meeting in Indianapolis. Russ Libby was second at 33.33 percent and Michael Haywood was third at 14.04 percent.
Article continues below ...
As the final tally was posted on two video boards in the front of a hotel ballroom, Whaley’s supporters pumped their fists, delegates gave her a standing ovation and Whaley hugged everybody in sight as she took a deliberate 5-minute stroll from the back of the room to one of two head tables.
"It’s an incredibly special day for me, my family, the Connecticut section and our members," Whaley said. "Our association has a long-term strategic plan and I’m excited to part of implementing that plan. We have so many opportunities to bring diverse groups into the game, that’s what I’m excited about."
The selection of Whaley, who in 2003 became the first woman to qualify for a men’s event since Babe Zaharias, is just a start.
She will serve the next two years as PGA secretary, then two years as vice president before starting a two-year term as president and another two-year term as honorary president. Each promotion must be approved through a formal vote, which is usually considered a formality.
For the PGA, it’s a chance to turn the page on one of the organization’s darker chapters. President Ted Bishop was ousted last month after using social media to call European pro Ian Poulter a "Lil Girl" and writing that Poulter sounded "like a little girl squealing during recess."
Supporters made it clear that the association needed to go in a different direction and that choosing Whaley would help.
"Who among is more passionate about the teaching the game to every person, to show the magic of our game to every child, to every man and to every woman?" Connecticut section member Gary Reynolds said in his nominating speech. "Sometimes we are lucky, lucky to experience a moment where we can embrace change."
Voters didn’t just want to embrace change, they wanted to embrace Whaley, a mother of two and the director of instruction at her own golf academy in Croswell, Connecticut. In 2010, the Farmington, Connecticut, resident became the second woman elected to the PGA’s board of directors.
But the historic vote drew raves from every corner of the room — friends, supporters, board members, teaching pros and especially her new executive colleagues.
Whaley was so touched that she forgot to insert her own name into the oath during the swearing-in ceremony.
"I am so proud to be a PGA member and so honored to serve all of you," she said as her voice cracked.
The selection of Whaley wasn’t the only business Saturday.
Voters approved Derek Sprague, of Malone, New York, to become the association’s 39th president. They also voted to promote Paul Levy of Indian Wells, California, from secretary to vice president. And they extended Allen Wronowski’s term an additional two years. He will fill the void left by Bishop’s ouster.
But it was the election of Whaley that could have the greatest long-term impact for an organization that has been mostly male-dominated that will celebrate its centennial anniversary in 2016.
"I think it’s great to have a woman in a national leadership position because I think it opens the door for women in other leadership positions," Sprague said. "It can only inspire other women to get into leadership positions."