Growing up in Jal, New Mexico, during the 1940s, Kathy Whitworth preferred sports to studies. She played softball, football, basketball, and even wrestled, mostly with boys. She held her own against them. But when she grew older and tried to keep on participating, the boys rejected her.
Kathy was a very unhappy girl. Instead of being active, she stayed at home doing almost nothing. Then she began to eat, not just at mealtime but between meals as well. She craved chocolate milkshakes and desserts. Kathy Whitworth got fat. Her parents tried to put her on a diet, but it was useless. By the time she was in high school, she weighed about 250 pounds and was 5 feet 9 inches tall.
She tried tennis, but that was a disaster. Although other teenagers were swift and graceful, Kathy could scarcely lumber after the ball. She realized that her peers were laughing at her. Doctors warned her that obesity was harmful to her health.
Kathy tried her best to diet, but it was difficult. Then one day she went to a golf course with some friends. She tried to play, and although she wasn’t very good at first, she liked the game. Kathy started playing as often as possible.
Her whole life changed. At first she taught herself the stances and swings, but then she realized she needed help. Kathy turned to Hardy Loudermilk, the Jal Country Club golf pro. Loudermilk saw Kathy’s potential and began to train her. But that was not the only benefit for Kathy. In a year, because she was exercising and no longer sitting at home, she had lost 50 pounds.
Kathy’s next golf teacher was Harvey Penick, and he thought she might become a champion golfer. Penick was in Austin, Texas, so Kathy and her mother often made the 400-mile trip by bus. Penick worked with his young pupil constantly. And Kathy lost 25 more pounds.
When Kathy graduated from high school, she entered the New Mexico State Amateur, her first big tournament. She won, making her the girls’ state champion. She won the tournament again in 1958.
Soon afterward Kathy Whitworth turned professional. She was only 19 years old. She didn’t suddenly catch fire and become an overnight sensation, but she did begin to be noticed by other women golfers. As her earnings went up her weight came down, dropping to 140 pounds. And by the end of 1973 she had won a record-breaking $488,319 as a tournament player.
Kathy took her success modestly. She often told her friends, “If it wasn’t for golf, I’d probably be the fat lady in the circus now.”
From The Giant Book of More Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.