The Mysterious Kathy Whitworth
Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer. Each is synonymous with golf, each with 60+ victories on the PGA Tour. Kathy Whitworth – are you familiar with that name?
If the answer to that question is no then you’re not alone. The first I’d heard of Kathy was on a recent Sunday evening when last year when I was pulling together some questions for a golf quiz feature I used to run on this blog. It was during this time I learned that not only did Kathy play golf professionally for almost half a century, 47 years to be precise, but she was rather good at it. And when I say good, I mean really good. 88 LPGA Tour triumphs kind of good.
When I saw the number to victories (88) I was utterly astounded. By comparison, Annika Sorenstam, widely regarded as the greatest female golfer of all-time finished her playing career with 72 LPGA Tour Titles – a valiant effort. Looking at the most LPGA Tour titles list, the closest competition for Kathy was Mickey Wright who won 82 titles. Even Tiger Woods has fewer wins (82) on the PGA Tour.
A Kathy Whitworth History Lesson
Born in Monahans, Texas on 27th September 1939, Kathy played golf professionally for 47 years before retiring in 2005. Kathy began playing golf at the age of 15 when her grandmother gave her a set of golf clubs, winning two amateur state titles before turning professional aged 19. It was at this age in 1958 she joined the LPGA Tour.
A prolific winner, Whitworth won 88 titles and became the first female golfer to earn over $1m in prize money on the LPGA Tour. Whilst this may not seem like a lot of money in comparison to the PGA Tour, where weekly winners alone take home over $1m, it’s worth noting the period Kathy played during and the fact the LPGA prize pots have always been and continue to be substantially lower than that of their male counterparts. The good news for the LPGA Tour stars is that the prize money appears to be increasing substantially year on year as the women’s game gathers momentum and increased interest from golf fans across the world.
Whitworth retired from competitive golf in 2005 after competing in the BJ’s Charity Classic on the Women’s Senior Golf Tour. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 83 on 24th December 2022 after collapsing while attending a neighbour’s Christmas party.
88 LPGA Tour Victories
Over a period of 23 years, Kathy picked up 88 titles, an average of 3.8 wins each year. Her first tour victory came at the Kelly Girl Open in 1962 and ended with her final LPGA Tour win at the United Virginia Bank Classic in May 1985. Despite being such a prolific winner on tour, Kathy wasn’t quite so quick out of the blocks when she first joined the LPGA Tour, winning less than $1,300 in 26 starts.
In 1963, just six years after turning pro, Whitworth won eight times in one year, a feat she repeated again in 1965. Fast forward three years to 1968 when she went three better, winning an incredible 11 times – a number I struggle to get my head around.
Despite her incredible winning record, Kathy’s total earnings for these three years never went above $50,000. Kathy was certainly made to work for her money, that’s for sure.
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LPGA Tour – Major Championships
It wasn’t just the LPGA Tour Whitworth dominated, she also won six major championships in the 10 years between 1965-75, the first of which she won by 10 strokes over second-place Peggy Wilson. Rather surprisingly, Kathy didn’t manage the career slam having failed to win the ANA Inspiration, U.S. Women’s Open and the du Maurier Classic. She did, however, finish runner up at both the ANA and the U.S. Women’s Open.
In 1990, Whitworth captained the US team to an 11.5 – 4.5 victory over Europe in the inaugural Solheim Cup at the Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, Floria, USA. Two years later, she once again captained the US team at the Dalmahoy Country Club, Scotland, where Europe avenged the defeat of two years ago with a comfortable 11.5 – 6.5 victory.
Achievements And Awards
Whitworth wasn’t just a winner and record-breaker on the golf course. She also has a serious amount of personal achievements and awards to her name. Not only is she a Hall of Famer, having been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975, but she is also an eight-time LPGA Tour Money winner. Astonishingly, she won the money list eight times in nine-years between 1965 and 1973, only missing out in 1969 to Carol Mann. That said, I’m sure that blow was somewhat softened by being named the LGPA Player of Year for that year, an honour she also picked up in 1966,67,68,71,72 and 73. Consecutive numbers like that really show just how unstoppable she Whitworth was in her prime.
The awards didn’t appear to stop there, though. Kathy was also the recipient of the LPGA Vare Trophy (awarded to the player with the lowest scoring average for the season) on no less than seven occasions between 1965-72 (1965,66,67,69,70,71,72).
Aside from the golf performance related awards, Whitworth was also awarded two particularly special honours which offer a brief insight into her character and personality. In 1986, Kathy won the William and Mousie Powell Award, voted for by LPGA Tour players and awarded to a player “whose behaviour and deeds best exemplifies the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA”. As of 2019, this award was renamed the Founders Award.
In 1987, Kathy received the Patty Berg Award, awarded by the LPGA to a player who “exemplifies diplomacy, sportsmanship, goodwill and contributions to the game of golf.”
Must Win But Mostly Modest
Like all of the great golfers listed on this page, Kathy had a real desire to win. There’s no way that she would have managed to win so many tournaments if she didn’t. What I really respect is that even with so many titles to her name, Kathy remains incredibly modest, a rare trait indeed.
I really respect that instead of wanting or feeling the need to be remembered for her many achievements both on and off the golf course, Kathy is satisfied with just simply being remembered. And remember her, I will.
A Record To Stand The Test Of Time?
The question I have to ask myself is will we ever see anyone break Whitworth’s record of 88 wins? In the men’s game, we recently saw Tiger Woods tie Sam Snead on 82 PGA titles after his win at the 2019 ZoZo Championship, something few could have predicted as Tiger dropped to his knees in pain during the final round of The Barclays in 2013. But Tiger always was and still is a freak of nature, something truly unique and special, and has miraculously almost returned to the summit of the world rankings.
In women’s golf, that truly unique and special player was Kathy Whitworth. Annika Sorenstam came close to matching her greatness with 72 LPGA Tour wins (3rd overall), but looking at the current players, does anyone else even come close?
For me, there are only two players currently playing on the LPGA Tour who have a slight chance of getting into the top-10 all-time titles list, let alone equalling Kathy’s record. Their names are Ariya Jutanugarn and Lydia Ko. Jutanugarnarn has managed to win an impressive 12 LPGA titles in her 8 years on tour and is only 27 years of age. She’s most certainly got time on her side and the ability, so I expect to see her win many more titles throughout her career.
Then there’s the multiple major winning World Number 1 Lydia Ko. Personally, I think she’s got the best chance of challenging Whitworth’s record. At the age of 25, Ko already has already won 19 titles and like Jutanugarn, has plenty of time on her side. The only problem is she’s only 69 wins behind Whitworth.
So there you have it – Kathy Whitworth – the incredibly talented record-breaking golfer who you’ve most probably never even heard of….until now. Feel free to share your thoughts on this article or on any of the players mentioned in the Comments area below.