Whitworth’s Legacy Of Winning

Whitworth’s Legacy Of Winning

Contributor: Doug Ferguson

If there was a moment for sadness in women’s golf, it was the passing of one of the all-time greats. Kathy Whitworth set a benchmark in American golf that no one ever touched. Not Sam Snead or Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour, not even Mickey Wright and Annika Sorenstam on the LPGA Tour. Among the numbers that stand out in golf are the 18 professional majors won by Jack Nicklaus and 59 — still the magic number of a scorecard, even if it’s no longer the record. Add to that list the number 88, which is how many titles Whitworth won in her career. She died on Christmas Eve at the age of 83, leaving behind a legacy of simply winning. She was the first woman to earn $1 million for her career on the LPGA. Her only regret was her six majors didn’t include a US Women’s Open. Whitworth was the LPGA player of the year seven times in an eight-year span (1966 through 1973). She won the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average seven times, and she was the leading money winner in eight seasons. But it was that number, 88, that came to define her through the years. Snead and Woods each won 82 times on the PGA Tour, while Wright won 82 times on the LPGA. Internationally, Jumbo Ozaki won 94 times on the Japan Golf Tour.

Golf also lost Tom Weiskopf, a blend of high golf intelligence, enormous talent, great vision and endless candour. He won the Open Championship in 1973 at Troon for his only major and was four times a runner-up at the Masters. Weiskopf ’s notorious temper was merely a product of high expectations for his game. That was just the golf. Jack Nicklaus once said of him, “Tom Weiskopf had as much talent as any player I’ve ever seen play the tour.” He was magnificent in the television booth, most famously at the 1986 Masters when he was asked what was going through Nicklaus’s mind during that famous charge to win a sixth green jacket. “If I knew the way he thought, I would have won this championship,” Weiskopf said. He partnered with Jay Moorish for his entry into golf architecture and designed 80 courses, most notably Loch Lomond. He died in August, and one comment seemed to capture why he succeeded in so many areas of the game. “I love the game. I love talking about it and thinking about it and to me it is endlessly fascinating,” Weiskopf said. Dow Finsterwald, who won the 1958 PGA Championship when it switched from match play to medal play, was another player whom the golf world mourned in 2022. Argentina lost another giant when Eduardo Romero — “El Gato” — died in February. He won eight times on the European Tour and five on the PGA Tour Champions, with two senior majors. He also won more than 50 times in Latin America. Also gone from golf was Bart Bryant, killed in a freak car accident in Florida. Bryant went 18 years and six trips to qualifying school before finally winning on the PGA Tour, and two of those wins were memorable. He beat Tiger Woods down the stretch at the Memorial and the Tour Championship.

Meanwhile, global professional golf became more important than ever. Joohyung Kim emerged from the Asian Tour to become the new star known as Tom Kim on the PGA Tour. After he departed, no one dominated the Asian Tour in terms of wins but American Sihwan Kim claimed his first victory after 11 years as a pro and then won again to claim the Order of Merit title. Another new star may be on the way in the form of Thailand’s Ratchanon Chantananuwat, who as an amateur, and still at school, won the Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup, birdieing five of the last eight holes, to become, at the age of 15 years and 37 days, the youngest male player to win on a major tour. Ryo Ishikawa was 15 years and eight months when he first won in Japan.

The Japan Golf Tour continues to produce young talent. Hideki Matsuyama certainly isn’t the first big star from the Land of the Rising Sun, though his impact has been profound even before he won the 2021 Masters. Following in his footsteps was Keita Nakajima, who turned professional last year after reaching number one in the amateur ranking. Next up might be Taiga Semikawa, who won twice on the Japan Golf Tour while still an amateur in college and turned professional by the end of the year. The biggest star for 2022 was Kazuki Higa, who won four times on the Japan Tour at age 27. Higa finished the year 68th in the world, and Augusta National was impressed enough to award him a special invitation to the Masters.

Higa was among several players from all corners of the world who posted multiple-win seasons. Linn Grant on the Ladies European Tour collected six victories across various tours, while Min Ji Park dominated the Korea LPGA Tour, winning six times for the second straight year. Manu Gandas won six times on the Professional Golf Tour of India. On the Japan LPGA, Mao Saigo looked like she might top them all when she won five times in the first 12 tournaments on the schedule, though no more the rest of the year. Miyuu Yamashita took over from there on the Japan LPGA and matched her with five wins by the end of the year. On the developmental Step Up tour in Japan, Kokona Sakurai also won five times. The most amazing of the seasons might have belonged to Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand. Not only did he win six times on the Japan Senior PGA Tour, but he actually won six consecutive tournaments.

While the PGA Tour and DP World Tour created a partnership that provided the leading 10 players from Europe to have PGA Tour cards, the end of the year saw lines being drawn. It was at the end of 2010 when Tim Finchem, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, spoke about the potential of a world tour. “I think that at some point in time, men’s professional golf will become integrated globally. Golf generally is a splintered sport, multi-organisational at every level. But there’s movement,” he said. How swiftly it’s moving is up for debate all these years later, and there still is no idea how it would look. But this year brought some interesting developments.

The DP World Tour and the Sunshine Tour in South Africa have had an alliance for a quarter-century and that was renewed in 2021. Much already has been said about the partnership between the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour. Toward the end of the year, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour announced a new partnership with Japan. The top three players on the Japan Golf Tour Order of Merit would earn membership in Europe the following year, along with both tours working on business development. Europe has long been regarded the true world tour considering the countries and continents in which it plays. It announced a new tournament in old territory — Japan. The JGTO chairman, Isao Aoki, spoke of the “rich tradition” of men’s golf and Japan over 40 years. “This development is the next step in the journey of our organisation,” he said.

Then, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour widened their global reach by including the Korean PGA and the Professional Golf Tour of India to their alliance. Under those terms, the leading player from those tours will have access to the DP World Tour. Ultimately, all paths lead to the PGA Tour because of the earlier partnership that allows the leading 10 from Europe to come to America. Meanwhile, the Asian Tour received that massive boost at the start of the year from LIV Golf and its $300 million infusion, and it became clear the Asian Tour was aligned more with LIV Golf. The PGA Tour already added the
Genesis Scottish Open to its schedule, while the DP World Tour had two US-based events on its schedule.

Where will it all lead? As fractured as men’s golf was in 2022, there was some question when or if it ever could be made whole again. The sport always has had separate tours on all six continents, and that’s unlikely to change. The difference this year was partnerships popping up all over. And the major championships still wielded most of the interest. Augusta National, while expressing frustration in the state of professional golf, said the Masters would keep the same qualifying criteria going forward. The R&A and USGA both said it was important to keep the heritage of its majors — The Open and the US Open — by keeping an open line of qualifying.

Adam Scott is an Australian who lives in Switzerland, so perhaps that made it easy for him to keep such a neutral role. He listened as the war of words seemed to increase. Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods said the only path to reconciliation was for Greg Norman to no longer be part of LIV Golf. Sergio Garcia wondered why no one was asking for the removal of PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. That led Scott to wonder what there was to even talk about, especially with lawsuits in play. “I genuinely feel like LIV should get on with what they’re doing, and the PGA Tour should get on with what they’re doing and it will all sort out. Whether that’s together or not, I have no clue. But I don’t necessarily think that it has to be together or not together for the good of the game. I think the good of the game will prevail, but it’s a big shake-up and we’re not used to that,” he said.

Indeed, this was a memorable year for the feats on the golf course and the disruption and acrimony away from it. It brought the emergence of Scottie Scheffler and the return of Rory McIlroy. Three players won majors for the first time. The race for the season points title on the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and the LPGA Tour were not decided until the final round, sometimes the final hole. There was much to celebrate, and that always leaves fans curious about what’s in store for the following year. That much stays the same. The end of the year is just like any other, looking ahead to who might be golf ’s biggest winner, with the hope being it is more memorable on the golf course than in the court room.


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