No player, man or woman, won more on a single tour than Kathy Whitworth, who died Saturday at 83.
From 1962 to 1985, Whitworth won 88 times on the LPGA Tour, more than both Tiger Woods and Sam Snead on the PGA Tour and besting fellow legends like Mickey Wright, JoAnne Carner, Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley and others along the way. She became the first woman to amass more than $1 million in career earnings on the LPGA Tour.
Whitworth died suddenly on Christmas Eve while celebrating the holiday with family and friends, the LPGA and Whitworth’s long-time partner Bettye Odle announced.
“Kathy left this world the way she lived her life, loving, laughing and creating memories,” Odle said in a statement published by the LPGA.
“The golf world and the world in general lost one of its most incredible women with the passing of Kathy Whitworth,” LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan added in the statement. “Kathy was a champion in the truest sense of the word, both on the golf course and off. In the short time I spent with Kathy, I was truly blown away by her and her approach to the game and to life. Her strength, insightfulness and vibrancy were obvious from the minute you met her! She inspired me as a young girl and now as the commissioner and I know she did the same for so many others. We all mourn with Bettye, her family and the entire golf world.”
Whitworth won the 1957 New Mexico Women’s Amateur just two years after taking up the game and repeated the feat the next year.
Before finally breaking through for the first of her record 88 victories, she nearly quit the professional game in 1959, in the middle of a difficult rookie season in which she won just $1,217 and had a scoring average north of 80.
Halfway through her first season, Whitworth came home to her parent’s house in New Mexico where they told her she could try something else if golf didn’t work out. Her father and a few other businessmen subsidized her career with $5,000 a year for three years.
After five second-place finishes, Whitworth notched her first win three and a half years later at the 1962 Kelly Girls Open. She finished runner-up six more times that year before collecting win No. 2.
Her career took off from there, and in 1981, she surpassed $1 million in career earnings. Despite Whitworth being rather unpolished with her golf game at first, Betsy Rawls told the LPGA that Whitworth learned to play during her first years on Tour. She was known for the ultra-high standards she placed on herself.
“She just had to win,” Rawls said. “A lot like Mickey Wright and Louise Suggs. There’s just something that drives them. Kathy was a very intelligent person. It was unacceptable for her to make a mistake. She hated herself when she made a mistake. She was wonderful to play with — sweet as she could be, nice to everybody — but oh, man, she berated herself something awful. And that’s what drove her.”
LPGA founder Louise Suggs once said of Whitworth, “Mickey was the greatest golfer, but Kathy was the greatest winner.”