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Whaley Thrilled for Opportunity to Play

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The calendar says it is now three months and counting. That is D-Day for Suzy Whaley, when she will be the third woman in history to compete in a PGA Tour event ' against the men, of course.
 
Babe Didricksen Zaharias did it twice ' it 1937 and in 1945 at the Los Angeles Open. Annika Sorenstam will do it in two weeks now when she walks into a starburst of publicity at the Bank of America Colonial.
 
And then its Whaleys turn, at the Greater Hartford Open. She earned her way in, competing and winning her male PGA Sectional in the Hartford area. Almost every tour event has the sectional winner of that area in its field. The fact that Whaley won the sectional using forward tees matters somewhat. But come July 24 when Hartford officially begins, Whaley will compete from the back tees with all the rest of the pros.
 
Whaley isnt a rank novice at this golf stuff. Shes a former LPGA player, having competed from 1991 to 1993. She began having a family (two daughters and a husband) and decided to turn her attention homeward, where hubby is the head pro at the tournament where the Greater Hartford is held ' the TPC at River Highlands. She herself is a head pro also, at Blue Fox Run Country Club in Avon, Conn.
 
So dont get the idea that she just jumped up and excused herself from dinner so she can go play the GHO. She has been around pro golfers before ' just not to THIS extent.
 
For a while after winning her sectional competition, it appeared that Whaley was going to be the trailblazer, the first woman to compete against men in 58 years. From the end of last year until Sorenstam announced her plans to enter Colonial in February, Suzy was buried in an avalanche of publicity. The spigot of ink was shut off abruptly when Sorenstam accepted the Bank of America invitation at Colonial. The lemmings flocked immediately to Annika, but that didnt change things for Whaley ' she still has to compete against the men in Hartford, from almost 7,000 yards.
 
Whaley, though, doesnt mind at all. Ever Miss Congeniality, she put her best foot forward last week while competing in the LPGAs Michelob Light Open.
 
For me, Annika - if this is something that she wanted to do for Annika - I support her 100 percent, said Whaley. She is the best female golfer in the world. I wish her the best at Colonial.
 
She realizes the reason Sorenstam is playing, and she realizes why she is playing.
 
I'm a PGA club professional who earned an exemption into the Greater Hartford Open by winning my section championship, she says. As such I have a lot of opportunity to inspire a lot of people to get out on the golf course and help grow the game - which is really our mission.
 
Suzy Whaley never knew the furor that would erupt the minute she made the Hartford field. She still cant imagine why it is such a point of curiosity - only that her decision to compete has affected so many people.
 
I was overwhelmed by the amount of attention, she began. I don't even know how to describe it to you. I won a tournament, went to bed, thinking that that's what happened, I won a tournament. We celebrated, we were thrilled about the fact that I won it.
 
I woke up the next morning and by the end of the day I had at least 300 phone calls, my e-mail was locked, my cell phone was locked. My husband had at least 300 calls to his workplace. Most stories I think in the media have a peak, and they go on to the next thing. For me it was a story that kept evolving. And then when Annika announced, obviously it happened all over again.
 
And the messages from fans?
 
I received hundreds of letters, she said, more so recently from young women in high school. I received two or three from women in high school who now told me that they have the opportunity and the guts to try out for their female girls golf team, because they feel if I can go and play on the men's tour, they can at least try for play their female golf team. And that was fun to receive those letters. I feel I have done some aspiring and that's pretty special.
 
But Whaley still can laugh about it a little. She is certainly aware of the historical importance of her playing on the PGA Tour. At the same, shes not going to kid anyone. She knows she will do extremely well to just make the cut. To win ' that is really remote.
 
You have to laugh, she said. I don't want to sound like I'm not taking this seriously, I want to play really well there. I'm hitting it very well now. So I'm going to do my best to play well.
 
But at the same time I think you have to keep it all in perspective. And the fact is that I'm a club professional. In our area, or in our section, the last 21 section champions (all men, of course) have not made the cut. There hasn't been a cut made in 21 years.
 
Whaley, let it be noted, is an instructor, playing against men who play the game for rent money. But as an instructor, she really likes what she sees in Sorenstam at the moment. Annikas odds of making the cut ' or better ' at Colonial look very good to Whaley.
 
My expectation as an outsider looking go in, she will make the cut. She is the most determined hard working player I ever watched, said Whaley. As a teacher, (I think) she right now is playing unbelievable golf, if you were to look at her golf swing on video, so I have hopes that she will do very well.
 
And Whaley? What does she think of the whole experience and how it will affect her?
 
I went through a period of time after I first decided, and it was extremely stressful, she says. I was doing interviews daily. I was saying yes to just about everything and it was very stressful and then I was concerned about what my performance would be.
 
I realized in the last couple of months that just doesn't work for me. I'm a much more laid-back person than that. On the other hand, I'm very serious about my preparation and what I'm doing to play well.
 
So, on the one hand, she will entering a golf tournament ' period. On the other hand, its a PGA Tour tournament. She had so much trepidation about entering. She didnt make her decision to enter until one day
 
My oldest daughter probably made the decision for me, she revealed.
 
Every day I went back and forth. One day I would say I'm in. The next day I would say I'm definitely out. I mean it was a daily thing for us. I told my daughters every day, I want them to grow up believing that you have to work harder than the person sitting next to you. You have to take the opportunities when they come, because it's rare that they come and when they do enjoy every second of them,
 
My daughter looked at me one night when I was giving her my lecture after a soccer game and said, Why aren't you playing? I said, You are right. I am.
 
That's the day I decided. My daughter really decided for me.