Legend Kathy Whitworth Inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame

BELLEAIR, Fla. – More than one LPGA Tour legend will be recognized this week in different parts of the country. One day, almost to the minute, after Annika Sorenstam takes the microphone at Pelican Golf Club for a pre-tournament press conference at the event that bears her name – The Annika driven by Gainbridge at Pelican – another indominable figure of the LPGA will be recognized nearly 900 miles away.

Kathy Whitworth, the winningest professional golfer in history who passed away at age 83 last Christmas Eve, will be inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame on Wednesday during the PGA Annual Meeting in Frisco, Texas, not far from where Whitworth lived for most of her life.

Whitworth is part of a class of inductees that includes Bob Dolan, the PGA professional at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md.; Don Wegrzyn, who spent 47 years at Old Elm Club outside of Chicago; Coach Herb Wimberly, who led the men’s golf team at New Mexico State for 37 years; Suzy Whaley who was the first female president of the PGA of America; and renowned golf broadcaster and former University of Houston golfer Jim Nantz.

Already a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame, the World Golf Hall of Fame, the Texas Golf Hall of Fame, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the New Mexico Hall of Fame and the Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame, the PGA of America honor will add a capstone to Whitworth’s remarkable life and career.

Kathy Whit, as her closest friends called her, running the names together as one, captured 88 titles from 1962 to 1985, more than any man or woman in history. Tied for second on that list are the late Sam Snead and Tiger Woods, who have 82 PGA Tour wins a piece.

She was the Rolex LPGA Player of the Year seven times and won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average a record seven times in eight years between 1965 and 1972. In both 1965 and 1967, she was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press, and Golf Magazine named Whitworth “Golfer of the Decade” for the years from 1968 to 1977, a 10-year span in which Jack Nicklaus won eight major championships, was the PGA Tour money leader five times and was a four-time Player of the Year.

Six of Whitworth’s wins were majors, including three KPMG Women’s PGA Championships in 1967, 1971 and 1975. And in the last century, she became an honorary member of the North Texas Section of the PGA.

But if you asked her about her greatest accomplishment, it would be the time spent from 1999 until her death in 2022 when she hosted the Kathy Whitworth Invitational, a girls’ junior tournament at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth.

That tournament was the perfect metaphor for Whitworth’s life. From the moment the best girl golfers in the country arrived in Fort Worth until long after they departed, Kathy Whit was there, watching, mentoring and helping them however she could.

Courtney Connell, the head pro at Mira Vista said of Whitworth, “She was very hands on. Over the years she personally met more than 1,700 junior golfers. When it came to helping others, it really mattered to her.”

Not only did she meet every junior who came through, Whit took the time to ask each of them about their games and their lives. She engaged them as a counselor and friend. The event had a banquet every year and she would bring in guest speakers. Dan Jenkins, one of the most famous Texas writers in history, regaled the girls with stories about Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Byron Nelson and Jenkins’ good friend Ben Hogan, among others.

Whitworth would also always take questions.

“How do you get over being nervous?” a girl asked at the dinner in the early 2000s.

“You don’t,” Whitworth answered. “The day you’re not nervous is the day you don’t care. And when you don’t care, you should quit. It didn’t matter how many wins I had I was always nervous. The trick is to feel that way enough times that it makes you better, not worse.”

Past winners, no matter where they are in their careers, retain fond memories of Whitworth’s event and what it meant to them.

“The Kathy Whitworth Invitational, which I won 20 years ago, was such an important win for me as a young, aspiring golfer,” said LPGA Tour veteran Christina Kim. “I still view that event as a catalyst to my professional golf career. I am so proud to say that I was a winner of such an amazing tournament.”

When asked if she thought the participants in later years knew who she was, Kathy Whit said, “I’m not really sure, but I know who they are. That’s what really matters.”

When the Volunteers of America and the LPGA Tour began hosting The Ascendant LPGA benefitting VOA, Whitworth was there to offer any assistance she could. Whether it was being present for a pro-am, or sitting on a board, she wanted to help but shunned praise.

“She wanted to make sure that it was never about her,” Volunteers of America CEO Mike King said. “If we were honoring her in any way, I would have to trick her into coming out, telling her we needed her help with something.”

One of the ways Whitworth helped was creating the trophy for The Ascendant, which she sketched out on the back of a napkin. She was always there to present the trophy and congratulate the winner. Since her passing, the cart path leading to the final green is called The Kathy Whitworth Walk of Champions.

She would shudder at the idea of being celebrated yet again this week at the Omni Resort in Frisco. LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan will be there, along with a wealth of celebrities from inside and outside the game.

Whitworth would have also furrowed her brow at the Solheim Cup when American players wore the number 88 on their hats, a symbol of respect for Whitworth’s extraordinary record. She captained the U.S. squad at the first Solheim Cup in 1990. After that team won, Whitworth was quick to say, “It’s not about me.”

That was her sentiment throughout much of her life.

Just a few years before her passing, Whitworth and her longtime partner, Bettye Odle, were at dinner after a long day. Bettye noticed a young girl and her mother at a nearby table. The girl stared at Kathy and smiled.

“That young girl recognizes you,” Bettye said.

Whitworth got up, leaving her food, and spent 20 minutes chatting with the girl while her mother fought back tears. 

When Whitworth came back to the table, Bettye said, “Kathy Whit, you have no idea what you just did means to that girl.”

“Yes, I do,” Whitworth replied. “I was that girl.”

Wednesday, Whitworth’s golf career will be honored yet again. Her hall-of-fame life should be mimicked every day.

Whitworth Remembered

September 27, 1939 – December 24, 2022