Nancy Lopez, Jane Blalock, Donna Caponi share memories of Kathy Whitworth
Kathy Whitworth is golf's winningest player of all time.
For nearly five decades, Kathy Whitworth competed on the LPGA Tour. She began her journey as a rookie in 1958 and teed it up in her final event in 2005. Along the way, she routinely beat the best of the best no matter who was on top and whatever the season, ultimately establishing a record across all professional golfers, male or female, of 88 tournament victories. Whitworth accomplished this with a singular focus that will likely go unmatched for all eternity. She simply played to win.
Whitworth passed away this past Christmas eve at age 83.
“I can’t ever see her record being broken – no one will touch it,” says Jane Blalock, a 27-time LPGA Tour champion and CEO of the PGA Women’s Clinics presented by AIG. “To sustain that competitive edge, that winning attitude, for that many years and through generations of talent is truly incredible,” adds Blalock, who competed against Whitworth in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
“She beat everyone at some point – Suggs, Wright, Berg, Caponi, Rankin, Carner, Lopez, Sheehan, you name it,” notes Blalock. “She was on top of the world when I joined the Tour in 1969 and for a long time after that. She was tall and had that hair that never moved, and she was so focused on the course. Talk about intimidating,” says Blalock. “She was the ultimate scrambler, like Houdini. You’d see her hit a poor shot into the woods, and then all of a sudden, she’s on the green making birdie.”
Jane Blalock helps Kathy Whitworth celebrate her 73rd birthday during an LPGA Legends event.
Blalock managed to steal four wins from Whitworth during her 16-year tenure on the LPGA circuit – two in regulation and two in sudden death playoffs. “I remember winning that first playoff on her home turf in Dallas. I needed a birdie to do it,” recalls Blalock. “Kathy was seldom out of the top five in any given tournament.” In fact, Whitworth finished second 95 times – and 20 of those runner-up finishes were in playoffs. A yard or two difference here, one less lip-out there, and it’s conceivable Whitworth could have won nearly 200 tournaments. Donna Caponi found herself in a playoff for the first time with Whitworth at the 1969 Lincoln-Mercury Open. “When I won, I was actually heartbroken for her,” recalls Caponi, whose tidy par on the first playoff hole was enough to keep Whitworth out of the winner’s circle that day. Caponi says Whitworth was gracious in defeat. “I felt so bad that I waited until I got back to my hotel room to jump on the bed and holler, ‘I beat the best!’ I mean, now that I look back at it, that could have been 89, right?” Caponi, a 24-time LPGA Tour champion and member of the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame, teamed up with Whitworth to compete in the Portland PING Team Championship, an unofficial team event the pair dominated, winning three times (1978, 1980-81). “Kathy had this silver putter called the Tom Boy that I believe she used to win pretty much every one of her titles,” says Caponi. “Our putting strokes were very different, but once we figured out how to read greens together, we were a tough team to beat.” Whitworth’s record of 88 wins is untouchable in Caponi’s mind. “Nobody plays that much anymore,” points out Caponi. “We had 35 tournaments a year back then. We needed to play every week to make any money. For her to play for that many years and win or come in second over 180 times is truly remarkable.”
Nancy Lopez poses with Kathy Whitworth after Team USA won its 7th consecutive ISPS Handa Cup international team competition - all with Whitworth at the helm from 2006-2011.
Nancy Lopez remembers Kathy Whitworth and Carol Mann coming to her hometown in New Mexico to give a golf clinic. She was 15 years old. “Here were these two tall, charismatic women hitting golf shots,” says Lopez, “and I remember being so inspired and entertained. Carol was 6’ 3” and Kathy wasn’t quite as tall, so she stood on a Coke crate and swung away like Carol just for fun.” Lopez, an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member with 48 career titles, says Whitworth’s clinic appearances and later, her willingness to listen and provide encouragement to Lopez as a young player, contributed to her success on Tour. “Kathy was really hard on herself on the course,” says Lopez. “She got motivated by kicking herself in the butt. I am totally the opposite. But Kathy never tried to change anyone else’s approach to the game. She was a great listener and always very supportive.” According to Lopez, back in the day, LPGA players used to place a marked golf ball on the first tee to create an order for practice rounds. When your ball came up, you’d go up and get ready to tee off. “I remember the first time my ball came up and the ball after it was Kathy’s,” says Lopez. “I was so nervous I told her she could just go ahead of me. I didn’t want to hold up Kathy Whitworth! But you know, she was so congenial, we actually ended up playing that round together - and we played many more after that.” Perhaps it was during one of those friendly rounds that Lopez finally got up the nerve to let Whitworth in on a little secret. “I confessed to Kathy that we used to talk about her hair,” admits Lopez. “It was always so perfect and sprayed into place. We used to say if it moved at all, it had to be at least a 2-club wind. When I told her that, she laughed pretty hard. I will aways remember her great sense of humor and that laugh.” “She was respected by everyone of us, every player,” adds Lopez. “I thought the world of her.” At the close of 2022, the world of golf lost an incredible player – and an unforgettable human being. Rest in peace, Kathy Whitworth.
Shared from FORE! Fridays, a weekly e-pub of stories and conversation starters designed to help you look good, play better and know more when it comes to golf.