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Kathy Whitworth, the winningest professional golfer, died Saturday at age 83

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The winningest professional golfer of all time died last weekend. Kathy Whitworth was a giant in the golf world, capturing 88 pro wins in just 23 years.

LISA CORNWELL: If you watch her golf swing, you understand why she was so successful. But when you meet her, you understand what took her to the next level. And there was just something about that - Kathy had this determination that's almost indescribable.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That's golf analyst Lisa Cornwell. She says in a game where consistency is the hardest thing to master, Whitworth stood above the other greats.

CORNWELL: We talk about Tiger and Jack, and you think about Annika, what she's done in her career. And then there's Kathy Whitworth, who's surpassed them all. And she did it when they were barely making any money. She did it simply for the love of the game and chasing those wins.

CHANG: Whitworth was born in West Texas in 1939. She started playing golf when she was 15 years old. And despite her record wins later in life, it took her a while to acclimate to playing professionally.

SHAPIRO: As a rookie on the LPGA Tour in 1959, she played 26 events and earned less than $1,300. She thought about quitting, but she kept it up and in 1962, won her first pro tournament.

CHANG: In Whitworth's Legends Hall of Fame speech in 2013, she joked that she didn't actually win that tournament. It was merely that her competitor, Sandra Haynie, lost.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATHY WHITWORTH: But she said, I three-putted the last hole to let Whitworth win her first tournament.

(LAUGHTER)

WHITWORTH: And I said, well, I thank you very much.

(LAUGHTER)

WHITWORTH: So if anybody else out there did that, I thank you very much.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: As Whitworth got better, the money got better, too. In 1981, she became the first woman in golf to surpass a million dollars in career earnings.

CHANG: Lisa Cornwell recalls that one of the things that set Whitworth apart was her flowing golf swing. At a time when golf clubs were heavy and made for men, Whitworth's tall frame allowed her to command the club with grace and finesse.

CORNWELL: There was no forced movement. There was no herky-jerky movement. It was just graceful. But it was powerful. And so any time I see an old swing of Kathy Whitworth, I always rewind it and watch it again because it's kind of like listening to a concert pianist when it just sort of made sense. And Kathy's swing just sort of made sense.

SHAPIRO: Beyond her talent on the course, Cornwell remembers Whitworth for her warmth and humor and her skill as a storyteller.

CORNWELL: She was just captivating. There was something about - she had that Texas charm. She had this confidence. But there was something that just drew you in to her.

SHAPIRO: At that Hall of Fame event in 2013, Whitworth exhibited a little of that characteristic panache as she reflected on her victorious career.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WHITWORTH: My career was just the best. Of course, I was pretty successful at it. I admit to that. And that made it more fun.

CHANG: Kathy Whitworth died on Christmas Eve. She was 83.

(SOUNDBITE OF MKB SONG, "STAR67") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gus Contreras
Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.