For 27 years, golf was fun for Kathy Whitworth, even if she didn't act as if it was.
"Gosh dang it, Kathy, they should take your card!" she would say to herself after an errant shot. And thus would begin the masochistic mind game that Whitworth played during a round, the object of which was to browbeat herself into hitting shots that would prove she belonged on the LPGA tour. There was no letting up. Even as the ball rolled into the hole, she would shake her lacquered bouffant in disgust and mutter in her Southwest twang that she didn't deserve a good score. Carol Mann, who used to play the tour with Whitworth, called it her "dark side."
Still, it was the way Whitworth had fun, the way she took charge. "The wonderful thing about it was that I was the one who called the shots," Whitworth says. "My success was totally up to me. I didn't do it for the galleries or money. Playing well was self-gratifying."
Today, Whitworth still acts as if playing golf isn't any fun. Only now, it's no act.
Whitworth is a golfing legend, the most honored player in LPGA history. Her 88 official tour victories outstrip the records of Sam Snead, who has 81 on the PGA Tour, Jack Nicklaus (71), Arnold Palmer (60), Mickey Wright (82), Patty Berg (57) and everyone else who has played the pro game. She made the LPGA Hall of Fame 16 years ago and was the tour's top money winner eight times, Player of the Year seven times and the winner of the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average for the year seven times. During her 33-year career she has won more than $1.7 million.
But now, at 52, an age when most of her contemporaries are retired and resting comfortably on their laurels, Whitworth finds herself in the sad position of having to scramble to make a living. Because she trusted the wrong person with her savings, she doesn't have enough to retire.
Last year she announced her ."retirement" so the golfing world would know she was available for "anything they thought they could use me for." She continues to play tournaments—10 this year—though she misses more cuts than she makes. Still, it's the best way she knows to make contacts so she can play in pro-ams, exhibitions and outings—anything to make a few dollars. She's also trying to sell the three-bedroom house in Fort Worth that she helped design 10 years ago as her retirement home.
In addition to sporadic tournament appearances, she has been meeting with Japanese investors about a golf school she plans to start at Columbia Lakes Resort in West Columbia, Texas, next year, and she recently signed a deal to represent Chateau Elan Golf Club in Braselton, Ga. Aside from prize money and appearance fees, her earnings come from the endorsement contract she has had with Wilson Sporting Goods for 32 years and from the instructional column she writes for Golf for Women, a bimonthly magazine.
"Golf is the only thing that's open to me now, so I'm accepting every outing and pro-am that comes along," she says with resignation. "Gradually, I'm building up my reserves again. I figure if I work really hard during the next four years, I'll be O.K."
Whitworth's financial situation is the result of her entanglement with Technical Equities Corp., a financial management company based in San Jose, Calif., that attracted investments from doctors, lawyers and a host of professional athletes, including Don Drysdale, Rick Barry, Pete Banaszak, Chip Beck and Sally Little. In 1981, Whitworth transferred her savings—$388,000 in total—to Technical Equities. In late 1985, Technical Equities' stock started plummeting—from $17 a share in September to less than $2 in February 1986. In January 1986, the company dismissed Harry Stern, its president and founder, amid allegations of fraud and mismanagement. Then on Jan. 31, Technical Equities defaulted on loan obligations, and a week later filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 (SI, March 24, 1986). When the company sank, Whit-worth's money went with it. Stern eventually pleaded guilty to fraud in 1988 and was sentenced to five years in federal prison.