Whitworth, Kathy (1939—)

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Whitworth, Kathy (1939—)

American champion golfer . Name variations: Kathryne Whitworth. Born Kathryne Whitworth in Monahans, Texas, on September 27, 1939; youngest of three daughters of Dama Whitworth and Morris Whitworth (a hardware-store owner); grew up in Jal, New Mexico, just across the state line from El Paso, Texas.

Dominated the pro circuit (1960s); was the first recipient of the LPGA's Player of the Year Award (1966) which she would receive six more times; inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame, the World Golf Hall of Fame, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, and the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame; was the first female professional golfer to win over $1 million in purse money.

Kathy Whitworth entered her first professional golf tour at age 19, traveling for two days from Jal, New Mexico, to Augusta, Georgia, to participate in the LPGA Titleholders tournament. "I had a little Sunday bag," noted Whitworth, "and I didn't even have a full set of clubs." Her caddie was "almost too embarrassed" to carry them. For the next three years, Whitworth earned little money on the circuit, but she gained in skill and confidence. Finally her hard work paid off when she won the Baltimore Kelly Girl Open in 1962. For the rest of the 1960s, she dominated women's golf.

Sexism was responsible for Whitworth's choice of golf as a sport. She was born in Monahans, Texas, in 1939, the youngest of three daughters of Dama Whitworth and Morris Whitworth, a hardware-store owner. Her family moved from Texas to Jal when she was a small child. It was a happy time. Though an indifferent student, Whitworth was good at football, softball, and basketball. On reaching adolescence, however, she learned that these same sports were taboo for girls. The once active child became a withdrawn teenager. "I couldn't stay out of the refrigerator," she recalled. "My only sport was eating." Taller than most girls, she went from plump to plumper, then, feeling immense and ugly, she would comfort herself with more food. By the time she was 13, she weighed 200 pounds. "I didn't weigh myself after that, but they say I ballooned up to 250."

Exercise seemed to be the answer. Whitworth tried tennis, but had too much weight and too much self-hate to carry across the court. At 15, she decided to find a sport that was acceptable for women. She chose golf and took daily lessons from Hardy Loudermilk, the golf pro at the Jal Country Club; within a year, she lost 50 pounds. Loudermilk then suggested she travel to Austin for further lessons. For the next two years, Whitworth rode the bus every summer to take lessons from Harvey Penick, a well-known golf pro; she lost another 25 pounds. After she won the New Mexico State Amateur championship in 1957 and 1958, Whitworth decided to go to Augusta. Her weight was now down to 160 pounds.

Whitworth won eight tournaments in 1963, 1965, and 1967, nine in 1966, and ten in 1968. From 1965 to 1968 and 1970 to 1973, she was the leading money winner. She won the Vare Trophy seven times, from 1965 to 1967 and from 1969 to 1972. In 1984, at the Rochester International golf tournament, Whitworth claimed her 85th career title, surpassing Sam Snead's record for most professional golf tournament victories. She was the first golfer to be awarded the LPGA Player of the Year Award in 1966, receiving it a total of seven times. In 1965 and 1966, the Associated Press named her the Female Athlete of the Year. She now weighed 140 pounds.

Whitworth always championed women's golf. Serving as president of the LPGA, she worked tirelessly to raise the amount of the purses at women's professional events. By the 1970s, women's golf finally arrived as a major sport, due in part to Whitworth's efforts. At this point, she had earned over $1 million on the pro circuit, the first woman to do so. One of the 20th century's great golfers, Kathy Whitworth paved the way for younger golfers like Nancy Lopez . "If it wasn't for golf," said Whitworth, "I'd probably be the fat lady in the circus now."


Condon, Robert J. Great Women Athletes of the 20th Century. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1991.

Eldred, Patricia Mulrooney. Kathy Whitworth. Mankato, MN: Creative Education Society, 1975.

Sabin, Francene. Women Who Win. Random House, 1975.

Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes: Who They Are and How They Influenced Sports in America. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1992.

Karin L. Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia