It took just 30 seconds to make history last Saturday in Indianapolis. Or maybe it was 98 years in the making. It’s often difficult to track paradigm shifts.
Some will contend Suzy Whaley’s historic bid began the moment ousted PGA of America president Ted Bishop pressed the “send” button Oct. 23 on his smartphone.
From those watching from 30,000 feet, Bishop’s gender-insensitive tweet – in which he referred to Ian Poulter as a “Lil Girl” – sent the PGA reeling and on a path offering the least resistance.
Of course Whaley would win Saturday’s election for secretary and become the PGA’s first female officer. The alternative would have been another media maelstrom, right?
In the hurried moments following Bishop’s social media miscue, Whaley was one of the few female voices in the game to speak out against the embattled president.
“For me to hear comments that are derogatory about young girls, or insulting, just because you are a girl, is offensive,” she said.
Three days later Whaley seemed to soften her stance on Bishop the man, if not his social media misstep.
“I worked with [Bishop] for three years; he has two daughters; he has a great family; he’s worked hard to make golf 'inclusive,'” Whaley said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Ted is not sexist.”
In a convoluted way, Whaley’s reaction to Bishop’s actions cost her, at least initially, in her bid to make history. But for those who see Saturday’s vote as a politically expedient way out of a media mess, know that Whaley’s path to the secretary’s post began long ago.
Those who considered Saturday’s vote a fait accompli ignore nearly two years of intense campaigning and what amounted to a commanding lead heading into last week’s annual meeting.
Long before gender became a headline for the PGA, Whaley was on the road to history. She was largely considered the frontrunner before Oct. 23 and her election was as dominant as it was decisive.
Whaley collected 52 percent of the 114 votes and became the first secretary elected on a first ballot with at least three candidates in PGA history.
To dismiss Whaley’s election as an abdication to the urgency of now is a disservice to the candidate and the collective.
“Our theme for this week was driving the game forward and certainly we are looking to be inclusive to all of those who want to play the game,” Whaley said. “As we move forward, I hope we show that and I hope I can be a part of that.”
In his nominating speech for Whaley, Gary Reynolds acknowledged the unspoken undertones of the week and urged voters to, “rise above the fray and return the best candidate and the best person to be the secretary of the PGA.”
Even Bishop, who did not attend last week’s annual meeting, stressed that his legacy - whatever it may be - not impact the PGA's future. “I hope this is decided like all other elections with the best candidate and not by all the external forces,” he said.
It’s not as though Whaley is blind to the gender issues facing the organization. Just four percent of the association’s members are female and if the litany of grow-the-game initiatives are going to be successful, they must start with what some perceive as a gender gap.
“It’s an enormous opportunity,” Whaley said. “If more women see that we have females in our association and if you have more women at golf facilities, people like to be around people that look like them. We want people to know golf is for everyone.”
While Whaley’s election was historic, it was anything but hasty. Although it took just 30 seconds for the assembled delegates to tab the Connecticut club professional as the PGA’s next president-in-waiting, the die for Saturday’s vote was cast long before the association found itself awash in unwanted press.
Beyond how long it took the PGA to come to its gender crossroads is what type of mandate Saturday’s vote sent across the association, if not all of golf.
The buzzwords for last week’s annual meeting were “moving forward.” It was a theme that was set in motion long before Bishop’s tweet, long before Whaley the candidate became Whaley the secretary.
“Electing Suzy today is a big move forward,” said Paul Levy, who preceded Whaley as secretary and ascended to the vice president’s office on Saturday.
Whether it took 30 seconds or 98 years, there was no denying the association is certainly bound for new ground.