For those who knew Kathy Whitworth, it’s easy to picture her sitting down across the table telling all of the stories recorded in her “Little Book of Golf Wisdom.” First published in 2007 with Jay Golden, this little green book isn’t much bigger than a cell phone, yet it’s jam-packed with gems for golfers of all abilities.
Whitworth died suddenly on Christmas Eve at the age of 83, and flipping through the pages of her book now feels like a long conversation with the winningest professional golfer in history. One we’d give anything to have one last time.
Whitworth won 88 times on the LPGA from 1962 to 1985. She won the LPGA Player of the Year seven times, the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average seven times and the money title on eight occasions.
Broken down into a series of small vignettes, Whitworth’s book is a breeze to read and gives valuable insight from a player who nearly quit the game after a rookie year that saw her average at 80.30.
Here are five nuggets from Whitworth’s “Little Book of Wisdom” that are sure to inspire and shed light on the legendary player:
The value of a mistake
Dinah Shore and Colgate Palmolive President David Foster present a first-place check for $36,000 to tournament winner Kathy Whitworth in 1977. (Photo: Desert Sun)
Whitworth was notoriously hard on herself. One of the reasons she won so much was because of her sky-high standards and willingness to learn. She called her misfires “beautiful mistakes,” and enjoyed the process of trying to keep herself from repeating them. She viewed mistakes as opportunities.
“You have to realize that you’ve made a mistake,” she wrote. “You have to relive the mistake. You have to analyze it to see where things went wrong. And finally, you have to come up with the correct solution. A mistake is not easy to correct, but it is easier if you look at a mistake as being beautiful!”
No blame game
Whitworth blamed no one but herself when things went wrong. She refused to blame the equipment, the lie or anything else.
“I always enjoyed saying to myself, ‘I made a mistake, but I won’t make it again,’” she wrote.
She wanted to get down to the root of the problem so that she could improve. Whitworth viewed her own game objectively. To do that, she had to be honest with herself.
“An important part of the process is to be able to accept yourself no matter what,” wrote Whitworth. “Improving is so much easier when you are honest with yourself.”
Fade to win
Kathy Whitworth, Avon, Conn., smiles July 25, 1981 after sinking a birdie putt on the 18th hole of the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open in Lagrange, Ill. The birdie gave her the third round lead with a total of 210.
Whitworth said she never won on the LPGA until she learned to hit a fade. She picked up what became her signature shot while putting on 50 clinics a year with Patty Berg for Wilson Sporting Goods.
Whitworth came to the tour hitting a big hook. The problem was she couldn’t always control it. Even when she hit irons into the green, the ball would often roll off.
The fade changed everything.
“I hit my drives a little shorter,” she wrote, “and I needed one more club hitting irons into the greens, because it’s a softer ball flight with more backspin.
“It wasn’t until I learned how to fade the ball that I was able to play consistently.”
How to practice putting
Whitworth noted toward the beginning of the book in a section titled “Know Your Weaknesses” that it was clear to her early on in her LPGA career that was she was a “bad putter.” Obviously, she put in the work to turn that around.
In a later section titled “Putting Practice,” Whitworth said she didn’t spend that much time working on 3-footers.
“I felt that if I could stroke the ball well on a long putt, the same stroke could work on a short putt,” she said. “Also, if I made any mistakes, they would show up a lot more on a long putt.”
If she wasn’t keeping her head steady over putts, for example, she’d be more likely to notice that on a long putt than a short putt.
“If my practice session was going well with long putting, I would take one ball and putt to one hole at a time, as if I was putting on the course,” said wrote. “In other words, I take a long putt, and then try to make the second putt. I took it quite seriously. The intent was there.”
What comes with being No. 1
Kathy Whitworth waves to crowd after sinking a birdie put on the 9th hole during the first round of the 1981 U.S Womens Open in La Grange, Illinois.
Toward the end of the 142-page book, Whitworth talks about what it took to be No. 1. Not from a playing standpoint, but the responsibilities beyond that. She talked about what it meant to be a role model, following in the footsteps of her own role models: Mickey Wright, Patty Berg, Betsy Rawls and Louise Suggs.
Whitworth was president of the LPGA on four different occasions and when she wasn’t president, she served on the board. She did whatever it took to ensure the tour’s success.
There was also the unwritten rule, she said, of playing in every event. Every sponsor wanted the No. 1 player in the field.
“You just did it,” she said. “Mickey did it. Patty did it, Everyone did it. So when it was my turn, I did it. At times it was a burden, but it was the responsibility of being No. 1.”
Some people, Whitworth noted, are scared of all that comes with being the best.
“When you win, whether you want it or not, certain things are expected of you,” she wrote. “You’re a leader, and you have to accept the responsibility that goes along with it. Some people shy away from it. Believe it or not, for that reason, some people don’t want to win.”