May 29, 2023
Kathy Whitworth, the most successful female golfer in history, has died at the age of 83

Kathy Whitworth, the most successful female golfer in history, has died at the age of 83

Kathy Whitworth set standards in golf that no one has touched before, whether it’s Sam Snead or Tiger Woods, Mickey Wright or Annika Sorenstam. Her 88 wins are the most of any player on a single professional tour.

Whitworth, whose LPGA Tour victories spanned nearly a quarter century and became the first woman to earn $1 million on the LPGA, died on Christmas Eve, her longtime partner said. She was 83.

Bettye Odle did not disclose a cause of death, saying only that Whitworth died suddenly on Saturday night while celebrating with family and friends.

“Kathy left this as she lived her life – loving, laughing and creating memories,” Odle said in a statement released by the LPGA Tour.

Whitworth won the first of her 88 titles at the Kelly Girls Open in July 1962. She won six majors during her career and broke Mickey Wright’s career record of 82 when Whitworth captured the Lady Michelob in the summer of 1982.

Her last win came at the 1985 United Virginia Bank Classic.

“Winning never gets old,” Whitworth once said.

All she lacked in her career was the US Women’s Open, the largest of the women’s majors. When she became the first woman to surpass $1 million in career earnings in 1981, she said, “I would have traded the first million for winning the Open, but it was a consolation that took some of the sting out of not winning.”

Whitworth was the AP Athlete of the Year in 1965 and 1967 when she easily defeated Wimbledon singles champion Billie Jean King. Whitworth was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1982.

Within eight years (1966 to 1973), she was the LPGA Player of the Year seven times. She won the Vare Trophy for lowest point average seven times and was the top money winner in eight seasons.

But she was identified by a number – 88.

Snead was credited with a record 82 wins on the PGA Tour, a total that Woods has since equaled. Wright won 82 times on the LPGA Tour while Sorenstam had 72 wins when she retired after the 2006 season at the age of 36.

“I think Mickey had the best swing and was probably the greatest golfer,” Betsy Rawls once told Golf Digest. “But Kathy was the best player in the game I’ve ever seen.”

Whitworth was born in Monahans, a small town in west Texas, and learned to play golf in New Mexico. She started at age 15 in Jal, New Mexico, on the nine-hole course built for El Paso Natural Gas employees.

She was soon a two-time New Mexico State Amateur winner. After briefly attending Odessa (Texas) College, she turned pro at age 19 and competed on the LPGA Tour in December 1958.

“I was really lucky that I knew what I wanted to do,” Whitworth once told Golf Digest. “Golf just grabbed me by the throat. I can’t tell you how much I loved it. I used to think everyone by the age of 15 knew what they wanted to do.”

Wright had the more aesthetically pleasing swing. Whitworth was all about grinding and winning.

Whitworth won eight times in 1963 and 1965, and in 1968 she had eleven wins. In none of those years did she make more than $50,000. All these years later, the LPGA Tour’s total prize fund for 2023 will surpass $100 million.

Whitworth continued to lead junior clinics and remained active in the game.

“I don’t think about the legacy of 88 tournaments,” she once said. “I did it because I wanted to win, not to set a record or a goal that no one else could surpass. I’m not much of an oddity. I was just lucky enough to be so successful. What I did to get a being a better player doesn’t make me a better person.

“When people ask me how I want to be remembered, I think it will be good enough if people remember me at all.”

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