Kathy Whitworth, who joined the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour in the late 1950s when she was a hit on the national sports scene and won 88 tournaments, a record for both women and men on the tours in the United States, died on Saturday. . She was 83 years old.
Whitworth was at a Christmas party in the Flower Mound, Texas neighborhood where she lived when she collapsed and died a short time later, LPGA spokeswoman Christina Lance said.
Whitworth, who turned pro at 19, was the LPGA Tour’s top earner eight times and became the first female professional to win over $1 million in prize money when she finished third at the Open 1981 women’s tournament, the only major tournament she did not make. to earn. She earned over $1.7 million in her lifetime at a time when scholarships were low.
“I would have traded being the first to win a million to win the Open, but it was a consolation that relieved me of not winning,” she said in a profile for the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Tiger Woods, with 82 PGA Tour wins, is the only active golfer close to Whitworth’s total. Sam Snead, who died in 2002, is also credited with 82 PGA victories, and Mickey Wright won 82 times on the LPGA Tour.
Known best for her exceptional putting and bunker game and a beautiful fade shot that kept her in the fairways, Whitworth was seven times LPGA Player of the Year and won the Vare Trophy for average seven times. lowest shots in a season.
The Associated Press named Whitworth Female Athlete of the Year in 1965 and 1966 and she was inducted into the LPGA Tour and the World Golf Halls of Fame.
She has won six major tournaments in her career, winning the PGA Women’s Championship three times, the titleholders championship twice and the Western Open once.
“She just had to win,” contemporary and fellow Hall of Famer Betsy Rawls told Golf Digest in 2009. “She hated herself when she made a mistake. She was wonderful to play with – sweet as she could be, kind to everyone – but oh man, she scolded herself for something awful. is what motivated her.
Kathrynne Ann Whitworth was born September 27, 1939, in the West Texas town of Monahans, but grew up in the southern New Mexico community of Jal (named after local rancher John A. Lynch). Jal was the headquarters of the El Paso Natural Gas Company, which boosted the regional economy; Whitworth’s parents, Morris and Dama Whitworth, owned a hardware store for many years.
Whitworth, the youngest of three sisters, enjoyed tennis as a youngster, then began playing golf aged 15 under the tutelage of Hardy Loudermilk, the pro at a nine-hole course in Jal.
“It was over 10 years before open tennis tournaments were allowed,” she told The New York Times in 1981. “Golf was the only professional sport for women then, so I decided to stick with golf.”
Loudermilk saw her as possessing exceptional potential and referred her to Harvey Penick, the Austin Country Club’s head pro, who became one of golf’s most prominent teachers, best known for his 1992 teaching, “Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book” (1992), written with Bud Shrake.
“At first Harvey said to me in a kind but firm way, ‘I think I can help you, but you have to do as I say,'” Whitworth recalled in “Kathy Whitworth’s Little Book of Golf Wisdom (2007), written with Jay Golden. “I just said, ‘Yes sir.’ “If he had told me that I had to stand on my head, I would have stood on my head.”
Penick emphasized the need to adopt a grip that ensures a square clubface, something Whitworth never forgot. “Whenever I fell into a slump or started to hit the ball badly, I had Harvey Penick to go to,” she wrote.
Whitworth won the New Mexico State amateur title twice, briefly attended Odessa College in Texas, and turned pro in December 1958.
The LPGA was struggling at the time despite the presence of brilliant golfers like Wright, Rawls and Louise Suggs. Galleries were relatively rare, and touring players sought budget hotels and drove around.
Whitworth didn’t win a tournament until her fourth year on the tour, when she won the Kelly Girl Open. She cited her second victory, later in 1962, at the Phoenix Thunderbird Open as giving her the confidence to withstand the pressure.
Whitworth was approaching the final hole of this event, battling for the title with Wright, who was playing behind her. She didn’t know Wright’s score at the time because there was no standings, but “I made the decision to go to the hole,” she told Golf Digest, even though ” the keel was stuck behind a trap”.
“I whipped it out there about 15 feet and birdied it,” she recalled.
She won by four strokes and established herself as a force on the tour with eight wins in 1963.
Whitworth recorded his 88th LPGA victory in May 1985 at the United Virginia Bank Tournament. She competed on the senior women’s circuit, the Legends Tour, then retired from competitive golf in 2005.
In her later years, Whitworth lived in the Dallas suburb of Flower Mound, teaching golf lessons, running clinics, and hosting a junior women’s tournament in Fort Worth. A wooden crate on his home course, the Trophy Club Country Club in Roanoke, Texas, houses numerous trophies and 88 nickel-plated plaques engraved with details of his victories.
Whitworth is survived by his longtime partner, Bettye Odle.
Whitworth was a solid 5ft 9in but failed to deliver impressive drives and was not seen as a charismatic figure.
“Some people are never destined for stardom, even if they’re the star kind,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin told Sports Illustrated in 1983, reflecting on Whitworth’s lackluster personality.
“People don’t have to know you,” Whitworth told the magazine. “The record itself speaks. That’s all that really matters.
Alex Traub contributed report.
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