Whitaker makes history with rodeo’s Linderman Award

Kyle Whitaker steer wrestles at the Pendleton (Ore.) Round-Up. The Nebraska man is the only cowboy to have won the Linderman Award ten times, four of those times consecutively. Photo by Hubbell Photos.
SIDEBAR  Linderman Award winners  1966: Benny Reynolds  1967: Kenny McLen  1968: Paul Mayo  1969: Kenny McLean  1970: Phil Lyne  1971: Phil Lyne  1972: Phil Lyne  1973: Bob Blandford  1974: Bob Blandford  1975: Chip Whitaker  1976: Phil Lyne  1977: Chip Whitaker  1978: Chip Whitaker  1979: Chip Whitaker  1980: Steve Bland  1981: Lewis Feild  1982: Tom Eirikson  1983: Marty Melvin  1984: Marty Melvin  1985: Tom Eirikson  1986: Bob Schall  1987: Tom Eirikson  1988: Lewis Feild  1989: Philip Haugen  1990: Bernie Smyth Jr.  1991: Lewis Feild  1992: Bernie Smyth Jr.  1993: Casey Minton  1994: No qualifiers.  1995: Chuck Kite  1996: No qualifiers.  1997: Kyle Whitaker  1998: Kyle Whitaker  1999: Dan Erickson   2000: Jesse Bail  2001: Jesse Bail  2002: Dan Erickson  2003: Kyle Whitaker  2004: Mike Outhier  2005: Kyle Whitaker  2006: Kyle Whitaker  2007: Mike Outhier  2008: Trell Etbauer  2009: Trell Etbauer  2010: Trell Etbauer  2011: Kyle Whitaker  2012: Kyle Thomson  2013: Trell Etbauer  2014: Joe Frost  2015: Kyle Whitaker  2016: Kyle Whitaker  2017: Kyle Whitaker  2018: Kyle Whitaker 

Nebraska cowboy Kyle Whitaker has done something that has never been done before. 

The Chambers, Neb. man has won ten Linderman Awards. 

The Linderman Award is a pro rodeo award given to the cowboy who wins at least $1,000 in each of three events. Of the three events, one must be a timed event (tie-down roping, steer wrestling or team roping) and one must be a roughstock event (bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, or bull riding.) 

Whitaker competes in the tie-down roping, steer wrestling and saddle bronc riding. 

He earned his first Linderman Award in 1997, when he was 21 years old, following in the footsteps of his dad, Chip, who won four Lindermans (1975, 77-79). His dad, who worked the same events as Kyle, laid the foundation for his son. “My dad taught me and took me to schools in all three of those events,” Whitaker said. 

After he won the award in 1997, his goal was to win it three more times, to match his dad. After that, “it kept going from there.” 

This year was the most difficult in the ten years (1997-98, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2015-2018) for Whitaker to qualify. Usually, he works to earn his $1,000 per event in the spring and early summer. This year, he didn’t qualify in the saddle bronc riding till the fall.  

And this is the last year he’ll try to win the award. He plans on quitting the saddle broncs. “Bulldogging is my main event,” he said. “Every time I get on a bronc it’s like, don’t get hurt here. That’s not a good idea to have in the back of your head when you’re trying to make money.” 

He’s in his prime in the steer wrestling, he believes. “I still feel about as competitive as ever in that, and I have good horsepower. That’s probably seventy-five percent of bulldogging, to have a horse you can get out (of the box) and get one caught in the right place.” 

Jesse Bail, Camp Crook, S.D., won the Linderman Award twice (2000, 2001) while competing in the steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, and bull riding. 

His forte was the saddle bronc and bull riding but he had done some steer wrestling in college and enjoyed it. Those two years, he borrowed horses at rodeos, even Whitaker’s a time or two, to steer wrestle.  

He had complimentary words for Whitaker. “He’s a good hand and he has been forever, since I’ve been (rodeoing). He can do everything.” 

For Bail, who qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo twelve times, the Linderman Award is special. “It’s probably one of my biggest wins,” he said, “because you have to be able to do several events. It’s pretty awesome. I feel it’s like winning the world all-around” title.  

Trell Etbauer has won the Linderman four times (2008-2010, 2013) and has a strong admiration for Whitaker. “Kyle’s done a heck of a job at it,” the Goodwell, Okla. cowboy said. “He’s a heck of a cowboy, a heck of an athlete.” 

It will be a long time before someone else wins ten Linderman Awards, for several reasons. 

Etbauer points out that working three events requires a contestant to hustle to prepare and compete. “Usually, at a lot of rodeos, the steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding and tie-down roping are back to back to back. So you have to get horses ready before the rodeo, have everything booted up and ready, so you can run from one event to another.” 

Rodeo has grown financially as well, Whitaker said. “Now, it’s to the point where the events are so competitive and the financial incentive to make the (Wrangler) National Finals Rodeo and do well there is so great, that almost everybody specializes in one event.” The shrinking rural population makes a difference, too. “There are fewer people growing up on ranches now. If you grow up on a ranch, you’re more likely to be able to ride a bucking horse and rope,” and thus be able to work two different categories of events.  

Not only has Whitaker won the award a record ten times, but he is the only man to have won it four consecutive years. His dad, Phil Lyne, and Etbauer have won it three consecutive years.  

The Linderman Award was named after Bill Linderman, a pro rodeo cowboy who won six world championships: two in the all-around (1950, 1953), two in the saddle bronc riding (1945, 1950), and one each in the bareback riding (1943) and steer wrestling (1950). He died in a plane crash in 1965.   

The award began in 1966; there were two years (1994, 1996) that there were no qualifiers.  

A Nebraska High School Rodeo Association award has been named after Whitaker and The Fort Western store. The Fort Western Whitaker Award is given to a cowboy who has amassed a minimum of twenty points in each of three events. Like the Linderman, one event must be a timed event and one must be a roughstock event. The winner receives a trophy saddle and a $500 scholarship from the Fort Western Stores.