For 88-Time Champion, 'Winning Never Got Old'

Kathy Whitworth captured more titles than anyone
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 25, 2022 5:20 PM CST
Updated Dec 25, 2022 8:11 PM CST
For 88-Time Champion, 'Winning Never Got Old'
Kathy Whitworth blasts out of sand trap on 18th green before sinking a 6-foot putt to take the lead of the Women Titleholders Golf Tournament at Augusta, Georgia, in 1966.   (AP Photo/Horace Cort, File)

Kathy Whitworth set a benchmark in golf no one has ever touched—not Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Mickey Wright, or Annika Sorenstam. She won 88 times on the LPGA tour, the most by any player on a single professional tour. Whitworth, whose LPGA victories spanned nearly a quarter-century and who became the first woman to earn $1 million on the tour, died Saturday, her longtime partner said Sunday. She was 83. Bettye Odle did not disclose a cause of death, the AP reports, saying only that Whitworth died suddenly Saturday night while celebrating Christmas Eve with family and friends.

Whitworth won her first titles in the Kelly Girls Opens in 1962. She won six majors during her career and broke Mickey Wright's record of 82 career wins when Whitworth captured the Lady Michelob in 1982. Her final victory came in 1985 at the United Virginia Bank Classic. "Winning never got old," Whitworth once said. All that was missing from her career was the US Women's Open, the biggest of the women's majors. Upon being the first woman to surpass $1 million in career earnings in 1981, she said, "I would have swapped being the first to make a million for winning the Open, but it was a consolation which took some of the sting out of not winning." She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1982.

Whitworth was born in 1939 in Monahans, Texas. Growing up in New Mexico, she played tennis. She was 14 before she picked up a golf club when a friend invited her to play, per the Golf Channel. Whitworth later said she "whiffed" on her first swing and was so irked she went back the next day to try again. At age 16, she started to work with a pro, and she won the New Mexico Women's Amateur in 1957 and 1958, the year she joined the LPGA Tour. Whitworth struggled at first, and then success came. "I don't think about the legacy of 88 tournaments," she once said. "I did it because I wanted to win, not to set a record or a goal that no one else could surpass."

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In retirement, per the New York Times, Whitworth lived in Flower Mound, a Dallas suburb, and gave golf lessons and conducted clinics. She also organized a junior women's tournament in Fort Worth. As a player, "she just had to win," fellow Hall of Famer Betsy Rawls told Golf Digest in 2009. "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." She was more a golfer than a personality, per the Times. “It’s not necessary for people to know you," Whitworth told Sports Illustrated. "The record itself speaks. That’s all that really matters."

(More obituary stories.)

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