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Friday, December 09, 2022

Kelly Whale, still feeding a record stretch of eight consecutive birdies in Saudi Arabia, heads to US Women’s Open qualifying with mom Suzy on the bag

Kelly Whaley was back home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, following two 9-month-old Black Labs named Gracie and Lulu when she picked up the phone. She will leave for Fort Myers, Florida, with her mother Suzy, for qualifying for the US Women’s Open at The Forest Country Club on May 4.

Suzy, America’s first female PGA president, qualified for her first US Women’s Open in 1986 at the age of 19, and this time will be drinking tea for her youngest daughter.

Kelly, now 24, would love to make her first USWO appearance this year at Pine Needles, the site of her US Kids Golf World Championship title. It would be a dream, she said.

“My mom is really good at getting me back into the present, whether in a good way or not in a very good way,” Kelly said. “She knows when to give you a kick in the butt or say it’s all good. That’s what I really love about her caddy.”

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With the newest sisters to the Kelly Whale family, Gracie and Lulu. (Photo: Kelly Whale)

It has been the first year for Kelly, who competed overseas for the first time in March at the Aramco Saudi Ladies International. While there she set a Ladies European Tour record of eight consecutive birdies in the final-round at the Royal Greens, a course record-tying 63 that placed her in the top 10, earning her a place at the following week’s field in South Africa.

“When I was leaving for Saudi,” Kelly said, “I didn’t expect to fly to South Africa soon after. That was a blast.”

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Kelly Whaley during the final round of the 2022 Aramco Saudi Ladies International. (Photo: Tristan Jones / LET)

There are five more events on Golf Saudi’s Aramco Team Series schedule this year, and on Sunday Kelly will travel to Bangkok for the next installment.

Competition in golf programs supported by Saudi is a controversial topic, of course, especially when it comes to human rights issues and the advent of rival leagues in the men’s game. Kelly said she was approaching the incident as an opportunity and “not really paying attention to what was happening outside.”

She also wanted to see the Ladies European Tour, and what she found in Cape Town, South Africa, was especially appealing with new friends, great ocean views and beautiful vineyards.

Kelly, who finished sixth at the Joburg Ladies Open, said, “I am very grateful that I went because it has opened many doors for me, leading her to a place at the Investec South African Women’s Open, where she finished 26th.

Kelly, who plays for North Carolina like her mother, has missed cuts on her last two Epson Tour events, but tries to channel the emotion she feels each time she makes the final round in Saudi Arabia.

That birdie run began on the fourth hole and went on to the 11th, a stretch that included two par 5. His longest birdie putt was at number 7 from 25 feet and the shortest was an inch on the 10th, where he filled a wedge for 105 yards.

“It’s almost like you have this confidence that just conquers you,” she said, “and you can’t miss.”

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Kelly Whale at the 2022 Aramco Saudi Ladies International at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. (Photo: Tristan Jones / LET)

Prior to Kelly’s eight-birdie run, the LET record of seven in a row was shared by Linda Weisberg, Marine Monet-Melloco, Nicole Garcia, Christy Smith and Stacy Lewis.

“That round has really kept me going this year,” said Kelly, who had her high school coach in Saudi Arabia on the bag. She would like to receive more invitations to LET events this season but will mostly compete on the Epson Tour.

Kelly and her mom have a similar competitive spirit. They strategize in similar ways as well, and Kelly’s green-reading skills have improved since he began caddying at Seminole Golf Club during the off-season. Kelly, who is naturally more introverted, relishes the excitement brought on by mom.

“My mom is super energetic,” Kelly said. “The moment of silence is never what I want.”

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