Driven to give back to the game, Whaley unveils junior golf academy
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Driven to give back to the game, Whaley unveils junior golf academy

Suzy Whaley.

Sure, most golf fans know the name well. Back in 2003, Whaley became the first woman in nearly 60 years to qualify for and participate in a PGA Tour event when she teed it up against the men in then-Greater Hartford Open.

Ten years later, Whaley is as active in the game as ever, turning her focus onto developing not only the next generation of great golfers, but great individuals through the Suzy Whaley Junior Golf Academy housed at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., home of the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship.

The academy, which accepts children ages 5-18, seeks to encourage and inspire players to be the best they can, develop skills and create opportunities for success and, perhaps most importantly, to have fun.

“I believe there is a need in our state to have a comprehensive player development track for youth to learn golf,” Whaley says. “Our lesson programming offers all children the opportunity to learn golf skills in a safe and non-threatening atmosphere where they can expect to learn golf skills but also life skills inherent in the game like respect of others, camaraderie, sportsmanship, and integrity.”

Whaley is widely known as one of the top teachers in the country with a laundry list of accolades to her credit including being named a top-50 teacher and a top-five national female teacher designation by Golf Digest. She is a two-time LPGA Northeast Teacher of the Year and a two- time PGA Teacher of the Year honoree in the Connecticut PGA section. Whaley is currently the National PGA Growth of the Game Co-Chair, National PGA of America Board Member, Conn. PGA Section Board Member and The First Tee of Conn. Board Member.

Whaley, who received the 2012 Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award which recognizes an LPGA professional who gives back to the game in the spirit of hall of famer Nancy Lopez, says she has been blessed with incredible number of mentors throughout her career, including her mom who instilled in her the motto “no fear, no doubt, just belief.”

“My mom taught me that I could do anything I put my mind to so long as I was passionate, worked hard, learned to appreciate my successes, learned to lose gracefully but never learn to like losing, and prepare to the best of my ability that I would find success,” she says.

Whaley credits PGA professional Joe Tesori with not only teaching her the skills she needed to play the game but also instilling in her the desire to give back to others.

Part of that giving back includes the creation of PE2Tee, a nonprofit organization Whaley co-founded with PGA professional and close friend George Devita that brings golf to local schools and ties those programs to local professionals and courses. The program is currently in place at nearly 40 schools and 12 districts.

Although by nature sports are competitive, Whaley makes it a point that her students learn to take the time to enjoy the game.

“We spend a lot of time making sure that their sessions with me are skill oriented but are also fun and enjoyable,” she says. “No matter the age, this is a game first and foremost and there will be good days and bad days but the experience is what is important and the connections you build with those students is what matters most.”

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John Lahtinen

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