GHO Marks End of a Whirlwind Ride for Whaley
'I'm sorry I'm late,' Whaley says. 'My children have been sick for a week and I just can't seem to get them past it.'
For the next several minutes, Whaley is all smiles as she patiently answers questions about Thursday's Greater Hartford Open, where she qualified for a spot by winning the Connecticut PGA section title last fall.
Life hasn't been the same for Whaley, who will play in a PGA Tour event two months after Annika Sorenstam competed with the men in the Colonial.
Whaley needed a publicist to handle the barrage of media requests, stepped up her competitive schedule, and increased her physical workouts while continuing to teach at Blue Fox Run Golf Course.
'I feel like I'm running a race, a marathon,' the mother of two young girls said. 'I'm in better shape than I was in than when I was 16. I didn't say I wear the same size, but I'm in better shape.'
Despite her hectic schedule, which she says is 'part of the deal,' Whaley is having fun. Phil Mickelson may be the two-time defending champion of the GHO, but Whaley has grabbed her share of the headlines.
Her face is everywhere -- on billboards and in newspaper ads. She's on local talk radio, promoting her charities and the tournament.
Buy an advance 'Suzy' ticket and $10 goes to junior golf. All of the proceeds from $3 'Fore Suzy' buttons, which will be sold on the course this week, go to the March of Dimes.
Whaley said it was important to make the most of her opportunity and to make it count for something positive.
'Not only am I out there hopefully showing some young people what they can do with their lives and showing my girls that something that I never dreamed possible is, but I get to say look what we did for some babies to have a healthy start,' Whaley said. 'And look what we did for some kids to get golf growing.'
Tournament officials are hoping Whaley does for the GHO what Sorenstam did for the Colonial, when she became the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to play against the men. GHO organizers anticipate a large media presence, fielding requests from around the country and internationally.
The GHO is one of seven tournaments on the PGA Tour in need of a title sponsor; Canon pulled out of the GHO last year after 18 years. Officials scrambled over the winter to put together enough local corporate sponsors to come up $4 million, enough to break even this year.
Dan Baker, the GHO's tournament director, attended the Colonial and was amazed at what he saw.
'I've never been to a golf tournament where everyone was rooting for one person,' he said. 'I've never seen more positive energy.'
Whaley, he said, personifies positive energy.
'How lucky we are that she's got her priorities set. She knows what's important in life,' Baker said. 'I can be completely miserable and she calls up, and instantly I'm smiling. I can feel her smiling on the phone.'
Whaley's qualifying prompted the PGA of America to change its sectional tournament rules. She won her sectional last year playing from tees that made the course about 10 percent shorter than what the men faced. In January, the organization changed the sectional rules to make women play from the same tee as men, a regulation that became known as the 'Whaley Rule.'
She took it in stride.
'It's always nice to have a rule named after you,' she said.
Mickelson said Whaley has earned her way into the field and welcomes her participation.
'I think that the PGA Tour is not the men's professional golf tour. I look at the PGA tour as being the tour for the best players in the world, regardless of race, regardless of sex,' he said. 'It makes no difference to me whether the participant is a male or female.'
Unlike Sorenstam, Whaley is not a fixture on the LPGA Tour. She prefers to teach, promote junior golf and raise her daughters with her husband, Bill Whaley, the general manager of the TPC at River Highlands in Cromwell, the GHO course.
She's made just one LPGA cut this year out of a handful of tournaments and faces her toughest challenge in just a few days. Only one Connecticut PGA section player in the last 20 years has made the GHO cut.
'I just think getting that first tee shot in the air will be fun,' she said. 'Once that's done and over, I can smile, relax and breathe.'
The smile is a given.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake
Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.
While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.
“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.
Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.<
DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi
Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.
“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”
Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).
“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.”
Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.
Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace).
“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”
Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi
What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.
Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.
McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.
He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.
McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65).
Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds.
“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”
Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder
Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.
Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.
Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:
Filling in tomorrow for Corey Pavin that WD today @cbgolfchallenge I do things like this a lot to help events and asking for sponsors exemptions here but didn't get any help.— Ken Duke (@DukePGA) January 18, 2018
Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.
Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.