Since Sept. 17, when she became the first woman to qualify for a PGA Tour event by winning the PGA Connecticut Section Championship, Suzy Whaley's life has not been her own. In three days she received some 520 interview requests and was transformed from a 35-year-old golf pro and mother of two from Farmington, Conn., into a gender-equity icon. "This wasn't my choice," she says, noting that winning the tournament, not qualifying for next year's Greater Hartford Open, was her goal. "But I think I could make a difference. I want women's golf to get a huge jump out of this."
For all its popularity, golf can't shake its boys' club image. Women account for 20% of all money spent on the sport in the U.S., and some courses, notably Augusta National, won't even allow them as members. Last year only one woman—Libby Smith of Vermont—played on a Division I men's college team. Whaley's home club, the Blue Fox Run Golf Course, in Avon, Conn., is one of only a handful owned by a woman. "Golf is one of the last bastions of male dominance," says Blue Fox Run owner Lisa Wilson-Foley. "I market to women, and they're still only about 25 percent of my customers."
Whaley, who played on the LPGA tour in 1990 and '93, is on the fence about competing in the GHO (her husband, Bill, is general manager at the tournament's home, the TPC at River Highlands), mostly because she doesn't want to let anyone down by playing badly. The GHO course measured 6,820 yards this year, nearly 1,000 longer than what she's used to. While she didn't win the Section playing from women's tees (which are moved up from men's tees by about 30%), she did play from tees which were about 10% closer. The PGA Tour doesn't oppose her playing in the GHO, and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have said they have no problem with her competing. "For me to think I could be competitive is insulting to Tour players," she says. "But my friends and family are all like, 'Suzy, who cares?' "