Ready For Her Close-Up On the eve of her big week in Hartford, Suzy Whaley, the first woman in 58 years to qualify for a Tour event, was ever the realist

July 27, 2003

Suzy Whaley hasn't really been afraid of anything since she was
nine years old. That was when her mother, a retired professor of
children's literature, read her Little Red Riding Hood. Mary Ann
McGuire wouldn't patronize little Suzy with the sanitized,
Disneyfied version: Her Grimm was grisly, gruesome and
grotesquely...grim. ¶ "I remember listening to Little Red
Riding Hood with bedcovers pulled up to my chin and a pillow
over my eyes," says Whaley, the first woman since Babe Zaharias
to play her way into a PGA Tour event. She gives a fluttery,
feminine laugh. "It was horrifying to hear what an easy lunch
the grandmother was. It was, 'See ya later, Granny. Get out of
here. You're done.'"

You mean after Grandma got wolfed down, she died?

"Absolutely. My mom was a realist."

The way McGuire sees it, Little Red Riding Hood is a cautionary
tale about going out in the woods with strange men. This week at
the Greater Hartford Open, Whaley will do the very thing Mom
warned her about.

The 36-year-old Connecticut club pro earned a spot in the
tournament last September by winning her PGA sectional at the
Ellington Ridge Country Club. A straight shooter whose drives top
out at about 260 yards, Whaley had been one of only two women in
the field of 90.

At the GHO she hopes to be paired with Corey Pavin, another
notoriously short hitter. "That way," she reasons, "I'd have
somebody on the fairway to talk to."

Whaley has a gurgling giggle and an ear-to-ear smile. She may
seem soft, but woman pros tend to see her as hard--a hardheaded,
hardworking grinder who, having decided on something, will stick
with it against all reason.

"I have plans for every hole," Whaley says of her GHO strategy.
"Maybe I'll surprise people, and maybe I won't. Either way is
fine with me. I don't think anyone believes I'm really going to
do anything, anyway."

A reluctant trailblazer, she took nearly three months to decide
whether to mix it up with the guys. "I agonized," she says.
"Should I be a pioneer, or would I simply embarrass myself?"

Letters of encouragement arrived from Whaley's third-grade camp
counselor, a former ski coach and a Beijing journalist who urged
her to play as an inspiration to women in China. Wolfish
e-mailers huffed and puffed that woman athletes are genetically
inferior to men. "What jerks!" says Whaley. "Some of those
e-mails were disgraceful."

In the end Whaley's eight-year-old daughter, Jennifer, helped her
make up her mind. One night at bedtime, Suzy gave her a little
talk on realizing potential and acting without fear.

"Mom," Jennifer piped in, "then how come you're not playing?"

"Well ..." sputtered Suzy. "I...am."

The next day she announced that she would.

Whaley's life has been full of odd disjunctions. As a teen she
was precociously good at downhill skiing. "Suzy was always sure
she'd win," says McGuire. "Sometimes she did, and sometimes she
took spectacular falls."

She crashed most spectacularly during a Super G training run in
the Adirondacks. A compressed vertebra ended the 15-year-old's
Olympic hopes.

She switched to golf, a sport her sister, Tracy, had played
before abandoning the game. With her mother as her teacher, Suzy
was soon outhitting boys her age. "I've always played against
guys," Suzy says. "I played against them in high school. I played
against them in college."

She went to North Carolina on a golf scholarship, and her plan
was to become a lawyer, but after graduating Whaley followed a
teammate to LPGA Q school. She enrolled on a lark, but she got on
a roll and qualified. She joined the tour in 1990 but likens her
pro career to the plight of Hansel and Gretel: "At times I felt
completely lost."

Finding a husband proved much easier than finding her game. She
married her first pro coach, Bill Whaley. (Coincidentally, he's
now general manager of the TPC at River Highlands, home of the
GHO.) Theirs was not a storybook romance, however. "I'm not sure
Suzy thought Bill was so great," says her mother. "Before their
first lesson, he asked, 'Can you turn the ball?' She looked at
him and said, 'Where do you want me to put it?'" Bill pointed;
Suzy put it there.

Her pointillism was far less precise on the tour. Whaley lost her
card after her rookie season and didn't get it back until '93. A
non-exempt alternate, she never got out of the locker room at
some tournaments, unable to crack the field. She quit later that
fall, having made two cuts in 13 events. Her top finish was a
72nd.

In the 10 years since Whaley has been raising two kids, Jennifer
and six-year-old Kelly, and signed on as head pro at Blue Fox
Run, a female-friendly muni in Avon with lots of ladies' days,
ladies' leagues and its own day-care center. "The tees are nicely
set up for women," McGuire reports. "There are many choices."

Whaley won her section crown while playing from a forward set of
tees that made the course 10% shorter than it was for her male
counterparts. She'll be playing from the tips at River Highlands,
which, at 6,820 yards, is about 700 longer than she's used to.

To get a sense of what she's in for, Whaley powwowed with Annika
Sorenstam, who two months ago became the first woman to play in a
PGA Tour event in 58 years. Sorenstam's advice: "Lift heavy."

Heavy lifting has added 15 yards to Whaley's drives. Sponsors
exemptions have allowed her to enter four LPGA tournaments this
season. She made the cut at the last two, coming in 48th at last
week's Big Apple Classic in New Rochelle, N.Y.

As for Whaley's chances of surviving this week's cut, her mother,
the realist, says, "Suzy has to stay in the fairway, out of the
rough and drop a lot of putts. Whatever happens, I think she'll
hang in and make the best of it. If this experience has taught
her anything, it's that life is full of variations and you can't
always control the outcome."

Just like in a fairy tale.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY ALL SMILES Whaley was 48th--and the star attraction--at the Big Apple Classic. TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY FAIR GAME Whaley, paired with Susan Ginter-Brooker (below) at the Big Apple, has taken Sorenstam's advice and added muscle.

"What jerks!" Whaley says of her more strident male chauvinist
critics. "Some of those e-mails were disgraceful."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)