Like so many others, I will never forget the first time I spoke with Shirley Spork. It was May 26, 2021, the day that I was announced as the next Commissioner of the LPGA. It was an extremely emotional day for me, which now feels a bit like a blur.
But one moment is etched in my mind, a three-way conference call with my predecessor, Mike Whan and the beloved Shirley. It was clear that Mike and Shirley had a special bond. It was also clear that Shirley was a remarkable woman who, at age 94, maintained the same passion and fire that she had in 1950 when she and 12 other strong women determined to live their dreams, defied the odds and founded the LPGA. Shirley’s voice was crystal clear that first afternoon we spoke. Her mind remained sharp and her strength and positivity radiated. I was speaking with the matriarch and I soaked up every word.
She had read my bio and quickly found common ground to set me at ease, including discovering that we shared the same birthdate. Then she made it clear that she was supportive and would be in my corner whenever I needed her. Like she did to so many during her long life, Shirley made me feel a part of her world. She made it clear that we were now friends and teammates, but that her expectations were high. And she confirmed my instincts that I had just joined a special family in the LPGA.
I had the opportunity to dance with Shirley on the first tee of Solheim Cup; to see her wow crowds of young girls and inspire businesswomen at last year’s Founders Cup; I sought out her counsel on big decisions; she sent me articles that she thought I’d enjoy; and I always loved her silly Facebook and text messages. I even liked it when she called me “Molly Dolly.” But my favorite conversation occurred just four weeks ago. I had the great honor and pleasure of informing Shirley that the Hall of Fame Committee had voted unanimously to induct her, and the other founders not yet inducted, into the prestigious LPGA Hall of Fame. In typical Shirley fashion without missing a beat she recounted several stories about how she started playing as a young girl in the Midwest and about how many times she failed before she was able to get members to agree to add a professional teaching division to the LPGA.
She absolutely loved talking about golf and about the history of this great organization. She told me during this conversation that getting into the Hall of Fame was now the most special honor she had ever received and that having the opportunity to tell people about the history of the LPGA was what she enjoyed most.
I think we all thought Shirley would live forever. My time with her was way too short, but the lessons I learned were long. Not only did she give me helpful swing tips - “Why are you in such a rush,” she observed during last fall’s Founder’s Cup Pro-am. “Take it all the way back slowly and calmly,” – but she also told me to keep pushing for growth and keep pushing for what I believed in. She was the living embodiment of what is possible when you have a positive attitude, do what you love, care deeply about the people around you and never ever give up, even in the face of great adversity.
On the day Shirley passed away, I was participating in an event at Upper Montclair Country Club in preparation for this week’s Cognizant Founders Cup. In my presentation, I talked about Shirley and the way our founders persevered against all odds to start and continue the success of this unlikely women’s sports organization. When I turned on my phone, I saw that I had a missed call from Shirley. I was excited to call her back and tell her that her ears must have been burning. However, before I could do so, my executive assistant and dear friend of Shirley, Candace, called to share the news. The missed call had not been from Shirley, but from her friend and loving caretaker Kathy calling from Shirley’s phone. To hear the sadness in Candace’s voice and to then see the thousands of tributes to Shirley since her passing has confirmed just how special she was and how large a legacy she left.
The loss of Shirley Spork leaves a gaping hole within the LPGA. We will be honoring Shirley in several special ways this week and we will work tirelessly to make her proud by putting on a tremendous tournament for our players, partners and fans. As excited as we are for the week, there is not one of us who doesn’t feel a strong sense of sadness that Shirley won’t be sitting on the Perch on 18 cheering us all on. Because of the lessons we learned from Shirley and the example she and her fellow founders set, we have an opportunity to lead and to inspire young girls and women around the globe. We will continue to take this responsibility seriously and will work relentlessly to honor their legacy.
Thank you, Shirley. Rest in peace.