No golfer has ever surpassed Kathy Whitworth’s standard, not Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Mickey Wright, or Annika Sorenstam. She has the most player victories on a single professional tour with 88.
Whitworth passed away on Christmas Eve, according to her lifelong partner. Her LPGA Tour triumphs stretched over a quarter of a century, and she was the first woman to earn $1 million for her career on the LPGA. She was 83.
Whitworth unexpectedly passed away Saturday night while celebrating with family and friends, according to Bettye Odle, who withheld the cause of death.
In a statement provided by the LPGA Tour, Odle said, “Kathy left this world the way she spent her life – loving, laughing, and creating memories.”
In July 1962, Whitworth won the Kelly Girls Opens, the first of her 88 victories. Whitworth broke Mickey Wright’s record of 82 career victories when she won the Lady Michelob in the summer of 1982. Throughout her career, she won six major championships.
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In 1985, she achieved her last triumph at the United Virginia Bank Classic.
“Winning never got old,” Whitworth once said.
All that was missing from her career was the U.S. Women’s Open, the biggest of the women’s majors. Upon being the first woman to surpass $1 million in career earnings in 1981, she said, “I would have swapped being the first to make a million for winning the Open, but it was a consolation which took some of the stings out of not winning.”
Sorenstam referred to her on Twitter as the LPGA’s all-time victory leader and a “total class act” who will be dearly missed.
“Thanks for setting the bar so high, Kathy,” she wrote.
Whitworth, who easily defeated Wimbledon singles champion Billie Jean King in 1967, was named the AP Female Athlete of the Year in 1965 and 1966. In 1982, Whitworth was enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Over eight years, she won the LPGA Player of the Year award seven times (1966 through 1973). She was the top money earner in eight seasons and seven times the Vare Trophy winner for the lowest scoring average.
But she could only be recognized by the number 88.
Snead set a record with 82 victories on the PGA Tour, which Woods has since surpassed. While Sorenstam had 72 victories when she retired after the 2006 season at 36, Wright had won 82 times on the LPGA Tour.
“I think Mickey had the best swing and was probably the greatest golfer,” Betsy Rawls once told Golf Digest. “But Kathy was the best game player I have ever seen.”
Whitworth learned to play golf in New Mexico after being born in the rural West Texas town of Monahans. She began at the age of 15 in Jal, New Mexico, on the nine-hole course constructed for El Paso Natural Gas employees.
She won the New Mexico State Amateur twice very quickly. She briefly attended Odessa College in Texas before turning professional at the age of 19 and joining the LPGA Tour in December 1958.
“I was fortunate in knowing what I wanted to do,” Whitworth 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 knew what they wanted to do when they were 15 years old.”
Wright’s stroke was more visually appealing. Whitworth was all about striving for excellence and success.
Whitworth had 11 victories in 1968, and she won eight events each in 1963 and 1965. She never made more than $50,000 throughout any of those years. After all these years, the LPGA Tour’s entire prize pool will surpass $100 million in 2023.
Kathy Whitworth, who set a benchmark in golf no one has ever touched, has died at 83.
Her 88 victories are the most by any player on a single professional tour. https://t.co/PoqNI2QgW2
— CBS Sunday Morning 🌞 (@CBSSunday) December 26, 2022
Whitworth persisted in running junior clinics and participating in the match.
“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 some fantastic oddity. I was just fortunate to be so successful. What I did in being a better player does not make me a better person.”
“When I’m asked how I would like to be remembered, I feel that if people remember me, it will be good enough.”
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Kathy Whitworth, who began the Ladies Professional Golf Association circuit in the late 1950s when it was just a blip on the national sports landscape, passed away on Saturday. Whitworth went on to win 88 tournaments, a record for both men and women on US tours. It was an 83-year-old woman.
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