The approach that Kelly Whaley (Palm Beach Gardens, Florida) uses in the game of golf and in life is with purpose and a refreshing sense of commitment. That’s why the University of North Carolina graduate is preparing for her first shot at the LPGA Qualifying Tournament starting with Stage I tomorrow.
“It’s a lot of fun, exciting and I’ve been here for about a week to get adjusted to the time change, heat,” said Whaley, a two-time tournament winner for UNC. “A lot of people would say its nerve-racking, but I think it is what you prepare for. It’s a huge tournament, but not necessarily about being No. 1 and rather being super steady. There’s a little bit of a different mindset, more about survival than cutthroat.”
Having left Chapel Hill this past spring with a Bachelor’s in Exercise and Sports Science while minoring in Neuroscience, the professional path was not a top priority for Whaley until graduation.
“I was committed to college golf at the time and did consider [Q-School], but it was a lot of school to miss,” Whaley said. “My classes really couldn’t handle missing that much time. I also wanted to finish my senior season and didn’t think it was the right time for me. It would have been a good experience, it just was a lot of school and I wasn’t going to leave UNC.”
Once beyond the friendly confines of academic walls and written exams, Whaley was prepared to take the next step toward a career in golf. From walking the fairways to maneuvering greens, the first chance to showcase her game came last month as a tournament sponsor exemption for the Danielle Downey Credit Union Classic, the 15th stop of the Symetra Tour season. She more than held her own, ending the first round as an 18-hole co-leader before finishing the week tied for 20th.
More opportunities are on the horizon for Whaley, as she has received tournament sponsor exemptions into the next two “Road to the LPGA” events—Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge and Garden City Charity Classic. She has been accompanied along the way and will continue to be by her mom Suzy Whaley, the first female President of the PGA of America.“Playing a Symetra Tour event really got me ready for the elite level and taught me some lessons that I can hopefully apply out here to only help,” said Whaley. “Also, my mom has been through this, so it has been very helpful to have someone to tell me when to take breaks, when to go after it. She knows what she is doing and been really helpful.”
BROOKS EAGER TO BEGIN PROFESSIONAL JOURNEYCoinciding with the start of her senior season at the University of Florida, Sierra Brooks (Sorento, Florida) brings her talents to Southern California for Stage I of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament. With all intention to complete her final year of eligibility with the Gators, the 2019 NCAA Championships runner-up enters the desert looking to secure LPGA or Symetra Tour status for 2020.
“It’s pretty surreal beginning this process for my professional career,” said Brooks. “It’s what I have been dreaming of since I was a little girl. I still have a lot of golf left to get there, but definitely exciting to get this journey started.”
Currently at No. 16 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, Brooks is coming off quite the eventful junior campaign. From the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in April, to the NCAA Championship and U.S. Women’s Open, she has a plethora of experience throughout her amateur career to ready for the challenge that Q-School will provide.
“I got to compete on high stages with the best female golfers at both the amateur and professional levels,” Brooks said. “Playing in the Augusta National Women’s Am from the significance of the event to the stage we competed on and being a huge part of history guided by legends of the women’s game was an experience I will never forget. My season, and even previous years, was full of experiences that have helped prepare me for the moments ahead.”
Even so, Brooks may have learned the most valuable lesson through all of it: to stay in the present and not look too far ahead of current objectives.
“I’m taking Q-School one step at a time,” said Brooks. “I’m going into it with the same mindset I have for every event—control the controllables, stick to my game, be there to win. Obviously, my goal is to get my full card on the LPGA Tour, but I have a lot of golf in front of me so I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself. Either way, I have a great opportunity, to give professional golf a go and finish out my senior year at UF. My time in Gainesville has allowed me grow as a person and golfer which is truly invaluable.”