By Becky Gee
Golf, long considered the preserve of elitist old men, has had somewhat of a makeover in recent years, with social media helping to pave the way for a new generation of young, attractive players to make their name in the sport.
The game, at long last, is sexy.
The world’s best female players have exchanged their baggy, unflattering attire for collarless shirts and skimpy skirts, and while the names of the top pros may have once only been known by the most dedicated of golf fans, there are now a substantial number of players who would be recognised in golf club’s world over.
It's not only the likes of Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson who have been instrumental in this drive to revolutionise the image of the game. The rise of social media has given birth to a new form of female golf star, whose profiles have been largely built upon looks rather than golfing prowess, and whose fame may even eclipse that of the best players on tour. The most successful, or at least prominent, of these is Paige Spirinac, who boasts an Instagram following that can only be surpassed by Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.
Despite this fame, she has become one of the most polarising figures in the game.
For some, the former college golfer is a pioneer, who, with her stunning looks and social know-how, has the power to attract a whole new audience to the game.
For others, her revealing outfits and suggestive poses are deemed an unnecessary distraction from the action taking place week in, week out on the LPGA Tour.
But for the fame she has accrued and criticism she has endured, it’s worth pointing out that Spirinac’s path into the golfing world is not one she had sought out, or perhaps even desired. An introverted child, who was bullied so badly because of her looks during her formative years that her parents made the decision for her to be home-schooled, the young Paige poured her energies into athletics as a form of distraction, eventually becoming a talented college golfer.
A trick shot video with her teammates at San Diego University, shot her to immediate stardom, and ever since her huge fan base have been charting her journey as she aspires to make it onto the LPGA. As is so often the case, the dream life projected via social media is so often not the reality, and in a tearful press conference at last year’s OMEGA Dubai Ladies Masters, the twenty-four-year-old broke down as she revealed her difficulty in coping with the substantial criticism she had received following her decision to accept a sponsor’s exemption at the same event the year previous.
It’s worth remembering she remains a young girl trying to chase her dream.
Nonetheless the propensity to sexualise our female golfers has become the norm in recent years.
Nowhere was this more palpable than in the twitter poll launched to fill the final wildcard spot at the LPGA ShopRite Classic. A move designed to enhance fan interaction, the poll quickly backfired when it became clear that looks had taken priority over ability in the selection criteria. For all the criticism the poll quickly attracted however, there is another side to the story.
In recent discussion with Carly Booth, without doubt the most accomplished golfer among the four players chosen, the Scot stressed her belief that any publicity that the game can garner is undoubtedly a good thing.
‘’There is no way that the event could have gained so much attention if not for the poll. I mean even the Rock was tweeting about it. Any means to grow the game has to be a positive thing.’’
While the sexualisation of sportswomen is by no means reserved for golfers alone, it appears the problem has become more prevalent than in other sports.
According to a recent report by Golf Support, over half of results wielded by a search for ‘female golfers’ were related to a player’s appearance, compared with just 10% in the men’s game. The world’s hottest golfers made for a recurring theme, a trend that is replicated on many of the prominent golf websites, which often place images of the game’s social media stars above the latest results from the female game.
The need for golf to continue to appeal to a wider and younger audience is something that few would disagree, whether we have to sexualise our golfers in order to do so is far more contentious.
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