Teen Tourney: Whaleys Feel at Home in Sandhills
The North Carolina golf connection is still strong for New York native and successful Connecticut golf teacher Suzy McGuire Whaley as her daughters prepare for another U.S. Kids Golf Teen World Championship in the Sandhills.
As a scholarship player at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Whaley played in numerous Women’s North and South Amateur Championships at Pinehurst No.2, having her best finish in 1988 when she lost in the semifinals to her then-Tar Heel teammate Katie Peterson.
The eventual champion that year was another Carolina player, Southern Pines resident Donna Andrews.
And now, Whaley returns to Pinehurst with the third generation of family golfers.
For Farmington, Conn., sisters Jenn and Kelly Whaley, it was a “must” to at least try golf as they were growing up.
And of course it helped that Bill and Suzy Whaley’s daughters had readily available instruction at home.
“We knew we wanted them to play and there was only a nine-hole or 18-hole option for each of them. Not learning was not an option, as it is such a large part of our lives,” said Suzy, renowned golf teacher whose accolades are extensive as well as impressive, as well as one of only three women to ever compete on the PGA Tour.
“If they chose to just stack the balls or come to the range and watch — that was fine. However, we knew they would get bored watching and would choose to try,” said their mom, who started playing at age 9.
Luckily, both Jenn and Kelly found that they enjoyed golf early on.
“It was just something we all did together as a family,” Kelly, 15, said.
Seventeen-year-old Jenn says, “Our parents began teaching us at a very young age, and competitions followed. Playing in tournaments was an entirely new and terrifying experience for us, but it quickly became part of the routine each summer and made us better competitors and golfers.”
“Once a golfer sees a glimpse of success in their game, it is impossible to quit,” she says insightfully.
One of these tournaments that both girls play each summer is the U.S. Kids Golf World Championships, held annually in Pinehurst.
“U.S. Kids Golf provides a wonderful platform to start all golfers in the competitive arena,” Suzy says. “It is low pressure and promotes a family atmosphere. As a teacher, I encourage all my students to play in U.S. Kids Golf events, and my own children were no exception.
“For us it was a perfect fit. They (U.S. Kids Golf) do an incredible job hosting the world championship and supporting junior golf. It’s a very welcoming atmosphere for our family.”
This August will mark Kelly’s fifth world championship and Jenn’s fourth, and both of them enjoy the experiences that the tournaments have provided.
“At first we decided to play in the world championships for experience and as a way to meet new people and golfers from all over the world,” Jenn says. “As the years passed, we continued to participate with a new mind set of trying to win or place top five.”
Kelly notes the friendships she has made at the world championship, as well as the family-friendly environment, as the top reasons she enjoys the tournament.
“I get to meet a lot of new people,” she says. “In fact, many of the girls I met when I was 11, I still see at events across the country today.
Also, the U.S. Kids World Championships are more family-friendly than other tournaments I have played in. They truly try to make it a great experience for everyone involved.”
The family aspect that U.S. Kids Golf provides in its tournaments is perfect for a close-knit family like the Whaleys. Parents are encouraged to caddie for their children during the tournaments. Suzy caddies for Jenn, while her husband Bill, who is the national director of golf for the PGA Tour Properties, caddies for Kelly.
“Bill and I love caddying for our children,” Suzy says. “My mom, who was an avid golfer, used to caddie for me, and I really enjoy keeping that tradition going. I will say my mom was an incredible caddie, and while I still have lots to learn, our girls still put up with us and allow us to enjoy our time together.”
“My mom and I are both more mechanical players, so we work very well together,” Jenn said. “My dad and Kelly are both much more ‘feel’ type of players, which is why they work well together. It’s easy to choose which parent is caddying for each of us, because Kelly will only have my dad caddie for her. She knows her game so well, and doesn’t need someone flooding her mind with thoughts.”
Kelly says, “My dad keeps me calm, and I am confident in my game when he is on my bag.”
While the Whaleys are a tight-knit family, Jenn and Kelly are very competitive with each other on the course, making each other better. At the same time, they also provide a great support system for each other.
“Our daughters are very competitive against each other but it pushes them both to improve,” Suzy said. “They had the opportunity to play together for the first time this year on their high school golf team and for them that was a real joy. It gave them the opportunity to really support each other, while at the same time push each other for peak performance.”
Kelly agreed with her mother’s sentiment.
“I like that my sister plays competitive golf with me. I always have someone to play golf with, and she is very supportive of me, if I’m playing well or not.”
Jenn will go on to Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., this fall to play golf on a full scholarship, while Kelly will attend the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head, S.C., for her sophomore year.
Their mother sees golf as a uniting aspect of the girls’ lives and also important for their future.
“We have enjoyed having both girls play tournament golf,” Suzy Whaley concluded, “because it has given us time together traveling as a family.”
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