Kathy Whitworth set a benchmark in golf that no one has touched, be it Sam Snead or Tiger Woods, Mickey Wright or Annika Sorenstam. Her 88 wins are the most by any player on a single pro tour.
Whitworth, whose LPGA Tour victories spanned nearly a quarter century and who became the first woman to earn $1 million for her LPGA career, died on Christmas Eve, her longtime partner said. She was 83 years old.
His partner, Bettye Odle, did not disclose a cause of death, saying only that Whitworth died suddenly on Saturday night while celebrating with family and friends.
“Kathy left this world the way she lived her life: loving, laughing and making memories,” Odle said in a statement released by the LPGA Tour.
Whitworth won the first of her 88 titles at the Kelly Girls Open in July 1962. She won six majors during her career and broke Mickey Wright’s record of 82 career wins when Whitworth captured Lady Michelob in the summer of 1982.
His final victory came in 1985 at the United Virginia Bank Classic.
“Winning never goes out of style,” Whitworth once said.
All that was missing from her career was the US Women’s Open, the biggest of the women’s majors. Being the first woman to surpass $1 million in career earnings in 1981, she said: “I would have traded being the first to win a million for winning the Open, but it was a comfort that took some of the pain of not winning away.” .”
Sorenstam referred to her in Twitter as the LPGA’s all-time win leader and a “total class act” who will be sorely missed.
“Thank you for setting the bar so high, Kathy,” he wrote.
Whitworth was the AP Female Athlete of the Year in 1965 and in 1967, when she easily defeated Wimbledon singles champion Billie Jean King. Whitworth was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1982.
She was the LPGA Player of the Year seven times in an eight-year span (1966 to 1973). She won the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average seven times and was the top money earner in eight seasons.
But she was identified by a number: 88.
Snead was credited with a record 82 PGA Tour wins, a total Woods has since matched. Wright won 82 times on the LPGA Tour, while Sorenstam had 72 victories when he retired after the 2006 season at age 36.
“I think Mickey had the best swing and was probably the best golfer,” Betsy Rawls once told Golf Digest. “But Kathy was the best player in the game I’ve ever seen.”
Whitworth was born in Monahans, a small town in West Texas, and learned to play golf in New Mexico. He started at age 15 in Jal, New Mexico, on the nine-hole course built for El Paso Natural Gas employees.
She was soon a two-time winner of the New Mexico State Amateur. After briefly attending Odessa (Texas) College, she turned professional at age 19 and joined the LPGA Tour in December 1958.
“I was very lucky because I knew what I wanted to do,” Whitworth once told Golf Digest. “Golf just grabbed me by the neck. I can’t tell you how much I loved it. I used to think that everyone knew what they wanted to do when they were 15 years old.
Wright had the most aesthetically pleasing swing. Whitworth was all about grinding and winning.
Whitworth won eight times in 1963 and 1965, and had 11 wins in 1968. In none of those years did he earn more than $50,000. After all these years, the LPGA Tour’s total prize fund for 2023 will exceed $100 million.
Whitworth continued to run youth clinics and remained active in the game.
“I don’t think about the legacy of 88 tournaments,” he once said. “I did it because I wanted to win, not to set a record or a goal that no one else could beat. I am not a great rarity. I was lucky to be so successful. What I did to be a better player doesn’t make me a better person.
“When they ask me how I would like to be remembered, I feel that if people remember me, it will be enough.”