U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Brinker Finds Inspiration From Aunt, Trailblazer Suzy Whaley
July 14, 2018 | Liberty Corner, N.J.
By Alyssa Haduck, USGA
Phoebe Brinker has competed in countless golf competitions, but playing in the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship this week at Poppy Hills Golf Course will be one of the 16-year-old’s greatest achievements to date.
The field of 156 competitors features a world-class group of competitors under the age of 19, including eight who competed in last month’s U.S. Women’s Open.
“I’m excited to be able to play because playing in any USGA tournament is an amazing opportunity,” said Brinker. “It’s taken me three times to qualify for this, so even just to qualify is amazing.”
Despite her past struggles to qualify, the Wilmington, Del., resident has conquered other events. She won the 2017 Delaware Women’s Amateur and contributed to Delaware’s runner-up finish in the final USGA Women’s State Team Championship last fall by finishing second individually. On the American Junior Golf Association circuit, she won the Windham Mountain Resort Junior All-Star tournament in 2016 and 2017 while garnering various other AJGA honors.
Most notably, however, Brinker became the first girl to win the Delaware State High School Championship (DIAA) in 2016 (she was runner-up in 2017). This historic win, along with her other accomplishments, has made Brinker a trendsetter for girls’ golf in her state.
But Brinker had a mentor when it came to navigating the competitive world of amateur golf.
In fact, she didn’t have to look far for guidance. Her aunt, Suzy Whaley, has been a trailblazer for women’s golf, from being the first female in 58 years to tee it up in a PGA Tour event to being the first female president of The PGA of America, a post she will assume next year.
Whaley was introduced to the game by her mother, and a passion was born.
“She taught me not to fear failure, and I think because of that, I’ve never worried about stepping out of my comfort zone. My mom was absolutely a catalyst for me,” said Whaley.
Four years ago, Whaley, recognized as a top 50 instructor by Golf for Women magazine, became the first woman elected into office at The PGA of America. After serving as secretary and vice president, she is in line to become the organization’s first female president. In 2003, she became the first woman since Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945 to play in a PGA Tour event (Greater Hartford Open) after she won the 2002 Connecticut PGA Championship. She is one of four women to play in a PGA Tour event, joining three-time U.S. Women’s Open champions Zaharias and Annika Sorenstam, as well as 2014 U.S. Women’s Open champion Michelle Wie. Brittany Lincicome will play in the Barbasol Championship next week on a sponsor’s exemption.
It’s those achievements that make Whaley an ideal mentor for female golfers, especially her niece.
“The wonderful opportunity that I have as a woman PGA professional is to reach young girls and to be a role model for them,” said Whaley, who competed in last week’s inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club, but missed the cut. “I want to support other women and want them to feel they have a voice in the golf business. And if they can see themselves through me, then that’s an honor.”
Brinker did channel Aunt Suzy in her groundbreaking DIAA win, reproducing the success that Whaley has had in proving that women can bring just as much to the game as men.
“It’s definitely a big step [for golf],” Brinker said of the victory. “It’s amazing that I can even have the opportunity to follow in [Aunt Suzy’s] footsteps. Even though golf is very male-dominated, especially in Delaware, to just to have her always supporting me is great.”
Though a busy competition schedule prevents Brinker from training with Whaley as frequently as she once did, the two still have an unbreakable bond on and off the course.
“I think where Phoebe and I have the best relationship is Phoebe knows that I’ve been there. I understand the bad holes, the good holes, the losses and the wins,” said Whaley. “I’m a little bit of her aunt, and I’m also a little bit of her coach, but her Aunt Suzy is there for her no matter what.”
One of Brinker’s takeaways from her aunt’s instruction is the same fearlessness that Whaley’s mother instilled in her years ago.
“She has definitely taught me to just be yourself. Don’t let anyone put you down or intimidate you,” Brinker said.
Ultimately, this is exactly what Whaley aims to instill in her niece as well as her students.
“We’re all about taking opportunities as they come, trying to prepare the best you can for whatever challenge is in front of you,” Whaley said. “What I would hope to have given Phoebe is the confidence to play anywhere, anytime, against anybody.”
In two years, Brinker will take on competitors from a new golf scene. She has verbally committed to play at Duke University beginning in the fall of 2020, where she’ll join 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Erica Shepherd (2019). Brinker chose the Durham, N.C., school knowing that the program and coaching will allow her game to develop even further.
“I’m just trying to be the best at every level I play and just see how far that takes me,” she said. “Trying to do well for the rest of high school, trying to be the best at college, and then hopefully pro golf. That’s definitely the goal.”
Even if the young golfer does not fulfill those aspirations, Whaley will always be proud of Brinker and all that she has accomplished at such a young age.
“Your score doesn’t define you,” said Whaley. “It’s your character, your integrity and how you hold yourself that defines you.”
Alyssa Haduck is a summer intern with the USGA Foundation. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.