By Stephen Zinger
In the teaser previews leading up to the start of the previous season of The Big Break (Ireland) on Golf Channel, there was one contestant that captured my attention from the beginning. Whitney Wright, a sweet, no nonsense type of girl from North Carolina, seemed to have the right attitude with a game to match. The type of player the other contestants wanted to have around, and the one I wanted to see do well, was eliminated in the season’s first episode. Because of this limited exposure on the program, I have always wanted to learn more about this talented professional.
This past week, Whitney Wright provided me with that opportunity, and sat down for an exclusive interview for GolfWRX. During her decorated high school career at Richmond Senior High in Rockingham, NC. Whitney was heavily recruited by several women’s golf programs. She ultimately decided on Florida State where she played in four ACC Championships and two NCAA Regional Championships before graduating in 2008 after four years as a starter. Since that time, Whitney has had her share of both highs and lows in her professional career. She begins 2012 looking forward with determination to secure her LPGA Tour card as a member of LPGA Symetra Futures Tour.
I concluded my interview with Whitney feeling like I had known her for years. I got the impression she spoke unscripted and right from the heart. After only an hour with Whitney, you walk away feeling like she is a person you want to see achieve great things. If you want an honest answer, she’ll give you just that.
Although her exposure on Big Break was limited, she got satisfaction from being selected from the thousands of applicants for the show and felt that alone was a boost to her confidence. She felt as though she played well on the show, but fell short. The actual elimination round was edited and shortened for TV purposes.
“I’ve never been so nervous in my life, I’ve played in tournaments, and have done photo shoots, but to know that every shot could be televised was very intimidating,” she said. ” There were 100 to 150 cameras and crew members filming us at all times.”
Whitney said this provided her with experience she would not have otherwise had to date in her career. She said this has mitigated a great deal of nervousness she previously had playing tournament golf.
“Now when my name is called on the first tee I am like, wow, this is nothing compared to what I went through on The Big Break,” she said.
Whitney said she would like a chance to do another show in the future to “go back and prove to everybody that I was good enough to stay there.”
Following high school, Whitney narrowed college programs to UNC Wilmington (Division II), and Florida State. Although she had a great deal of respect the coach and school, she fell in love with the facilities at FSU along with the opportunities the program provided. Whitney felt the competition at a Division I school would be better for her long term. Amy Bond, an assistant coach at FSU at the time ,played a role in recruiting Whitney to the program.
I asked Whitney to discuss the transition from playing collegiate golf at a respected program like FSU to life as a touring professional. She said the biggest adjustment for her was leaving the structured environment the FSU golf program provided in her life.
“Your schedules are set out, you know what time you’re going to eat, sleep, what time you’re going to workout and then you are in a place where you have to do all this yourself,” she said. “That was the real world. I had been spoiled for four years. We never had to plan when we would play or practice. I never had to make a tee time … I went up to Pinehurst to play with my friend, and they’re like, ok that’ll be $75, I was like, What? It cost that much to play golf? I’m not getting free range balls?”
A year after graduation in 2008, Whitney married her college boyfriend, a player from Norway on the men’s golf team at FSU. Giving up sponsorships, family, and other opportunities to play professional golf in the United States, she followed him to back to Norway where they relocated so he could make a run at the European Tour.
“I gave up a lot of my dreams for his dreams,” she said.
She played some on the Scandinavian Tour but did not have the success she had hoped for. Because her husband had a full time job as a club pro, she traveled alone by train to many of those events. After a year and a half, she discovered her heart was no longer in the decisions that made up that part of her life. They divorced and she returned to United States with a renewed focus not only personally, but professionally.
“I had to figure out who Whitney was, and what I was going to do with my golf career,” she said. But Whitney learned a great deal about herself and her game while in Norway. She described herself as a religious person, and believes that was part of God’s plan for her at that point in time.
Whitney came back to the United States and played in Calcutta (auction pool wagering) golf events in the Carolina’s to earn money as a means to support her tour dreams. She would play in these arranged events and at times, for $8,000 a hole. Golfers bid on on the player they think will win in an auction format. She became known as “that girl” that beat the guys on the course, taking their money in the process.
“Everybody’s story is not the white picket fence where people grow up with money and their parent’s paying for everything,” she said. “Everybody’s story is different. I am not really ashamed of what I had to do to play. It is what it is.”
Hesitant to provide details, Whitney suggests other tour players get their start in these events, and have backers that continue to support them through their career.
In 2011, Whitney only played in a handful of events on the LPGA Futures tour. In 2012, she has rededicated herself with one goal in mind, finishing the season in the top ten while securing her LPGA Tour card. Whitney has status to play in most Futures Tour events for the season. She plans on entering events at the beginning of the season and assessing her progress after the first few events. Additionally, she must keep a close eye on the money.
“I am going to play the first four or five [tournaments], then kinda feel it out, and see where I am at with the money,” she said. ” Otherwise, it’s like you’re playing every week just to try and get your money back. The money is really not that good. So I am going to play in the first couple, see where I am. If I am good on the money, then I am going to keep going, I’m going to keep playing.”
To supplement her finances, Whitney just partnered with a website called Golf Junkies. Golf Junkies hosts a number of golf events and trips in North and South Carolina which she will now be affiliated with. She owns a share of the company and hopes her involvement contributes to their success. She is also working on another partnership with Barefoot Landing, a club in Myrtle Beach, where she will be involved in their marketing efforts.
“I’m trying to broaden my horizons to make more money,” she said.
Whitney said she will attempt to Monday qualify for select LPGA, Canadian Tour, and a few Sun Coast Series events as well. She also has her eyes on Blackwolf Run, the site of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open in Kohler, Wisc.
In professional golf, as you look down the range, there is a lot of talent. I asked Whitney what she believed separates the good from the great players in professional golf. She said it comes down to putting.
“Especially with women,” she said. ” We don’t miss many fairways or greens.”
She also cited the importance of the mental game in women’s golf.
“It’s true, we are emotional creatures, and golf can be emotional,” she said. “It’s being able to keep your emotions in tact, mentally being in the moment, and able to focus for that amount of time, that many days in a row for women, is a lot harder (I feel like) than it is for men.”
While feeling confident off the tee, Whitney is devoting much of her practice to her short game. Although she missed qualification for the Ladies European Tour in January this year, she said she was hitting the ball solid off the tee, only missing two fairways in four days of tournament play. She felt she putted the ball great in high school, but “something happened” when she played at FSU. She said she putted poorly and lost a great deal of confidence and has yet to get the putting stroke back.
Currently, she is working on her stroke with a former FSU teammate out of Raleigh, NC, and said she prefers working with female instructors. She spends about six hours a day practicing and has a cadre of friends that partake in her efforts. Other than the practice green, Whitney does not spend a lot of time on the range, practicing her long game right on course.
“I am not really a big range rat,” she said. “I think you get more out of it going out on the course and putting yourself in different positions you may never think you are going to be in. Then, you get in a tournament, and you’re there. So now, you know not to panic when you are there. I’m working on fine tuning right now. At this level, it’s all about the fine tuning. We have all the equipment to get there, we have the knowledge, the game, right now, it’s about making small changes.”
I asked Whitney for advice for the common weekend hack who does not have the time to practice and work on their game for a living. She said amateurs tend to get too mechanical and focus on those mechanics as opposed to feel. She said less accomplished players try to get into positions that are ingrained into muscle memory for most professionals.
“You have to make it about feel rather than mechanics, and quit worrying about how you look,” she said. “People will get a lesson and an instructor will tell them you have to do this, and be here … you have to practice some of those moves 1000 times to be able to get that right, to do it on your own without having to think about it. They will never be able to practice that much to make it a muscle memory. It has to be about feel.”
Whitney has a great deal of respect for Annika Sorenstam, and what she has done for women’s golf. She views her as a role model even today.
“She’s proven she can have all the success, and also have a husband, children, and have a normal life too,” she said. “Men can have all those things too, and not miss a beat. With women, it’s hard because it’s going to take us away from the game for a while and we may not come back as strong as we were. That’s why I respect Annika, she went out, had her success, and family life too.”
Whitney currently resides in Raleigh, NC, and plays out of both the Raleigh Country Club as well as Verdict Ridge in Charlotte, NC.
It was a sincere pleasure sitting down with Whitney. I would like to convey my appreciation for her time with this exclusive interview for GolfWRX. Her candor, dedication, and respect for the game is evident. On behalf of the readership of GolfWRX, I wish Whitney Wright my best in her endeavor of securing her tour card and career on the LPGA.
Follow Whitney on:
Twitter — @blondiewlw