Why Paige Spiranac can pose in bikinis and still help ladies' golf

The Scoop

Golf needs social media stars like Spiranac, writes Harriet Shephard

Love her or hate her, Paige Spiranac has become one of the most talked about female golfers in the world.

Beautiful, blonde and with a new career as a Sports Illustrated swimwear model, it’s very easy to dismiss her success as being down to the fact that everyone fancies her. People have told the 24-year-old former college golfer that she has no place in the game, that she is in damaging golf and a bad example to young girls.

But I would argue the opposite.

She is showing the world that golf is for people like her, which is an opinion still shared by lots of people.

If you have no involvement in the game, it’s likely that you will see golf as a not very athletic, exciting or interesting sport to take part in.

Until recently, there have been very few figures in the media who are helping to prove otherwise.

But Spiranac is showing her 1.3 million Instagram followers that golf can be fun, fashionable and that it’s actually possible to look attractive while playing it.

Hey! We’re not all retired women into flower arranging and wearing frumpy jumpers and visors.

Admittedly many of Spiranac’s followers will just be interested in seeing her in skimpy outfits but some will be young people who might be inspired to give golf a try.

Most of us would agree that in order for golf to recruit more youngsters, particularly women, it needs to relax its rules and be more inclusive and welcoming. This is really all that Spiranac is promoting. She may post some suggestive selfies but it doesn’t change the fact that is she trying to grow the game.

I’m sure I’m not the only young woman who doesn’t like being told that they can’t play golf in leggings or shorts above a certain length. There will have been times when most women have felt a bit intimidated to be walking into a clubhouse. Perhaps this is why I can relate to what she is trying to say, even if she sometimes says it whilst wearing a very low-cut top.

“I dress differently, I don’t conform to what golf is supposed to be,” she told The Guardian. “I love golf but I think there are a lot of things that need to change. I think it needs to become more progressive, more inclusive. I am just trying to get people to feel more comfortable because I know I’m not alone feeling that way. That’s why people are not getting into golf.

“People like their traditions without change. When someone comes in wearing leggings instead of trousers, it is like the world is ending.”

When she was invited to play in the Dubai Ladies Masters in 2015 and 2016, many reacted as though she had committed some kind of atrocity.

They accused her of sexualising the sport and selling her body, she even received death threats.

Spiranac admitted that it made her “not want to live anymore” and that she was too scared to leave her hotel room.

It’s natural that not everyone will get her. But to be so incensed by someone wearing a figure hugging outfit that you feel you need to send death threats seems a little extreme.

I’d also argue that there’s nothing particularly revealing or provocative about the outfits she wears to professional events anyway. They are nothing that any other young woman wouldn’t wear. Yes she is always going to look attractive, but she can’t help that, and it’s not a reason for her to be threatened.

Esteemed golfer Dame Laura Davies was one of the professionals who wasn’t pleased with Spiranac’s invitation to the LET event. She said: “If she’s here for any other reason than she’s a great golfer, then it’s a little bit pointless.”

But in today’s world this isn’t true. The number of social media followers you have counts for a lot. It’s a bit sad this is the way things have become, but still it’s happened. Many young people use Twitter and Instagram to get their news and information, and it also impacts what they like and dislike.

To have someone with such a social media following at a golf event will only gain the sport more attention. It is no different to basketball megastar Steph Curry being invited to play on the Challenge Tour last year, or former Dallas Cowboys quarter-back Tony Romo getting the nod on the PGA Tour this season.

While Spiranac isn’t one of the top golfers in the world, she still played at college level and made the cut at the Dubai Ladies Masters in 2016. It’s not like she is just posing with a club and doesn’t know how to play. She can’t be compared as being the same as the now banned F1 grid girls.

Last month she became the first woman to take the role of tournament starter at the Dubai Desert Classic. A lot of people didn’t like this either.

But the organisers clearly knew what they were doing. There she hosted a clinic with One Direction singer Niall, whose Twitter fanbase tops 38 million.

Although Horan is a keen golfer with his own golf management brand, he was also partly invited because of his fame, particularly amongst young women and girls. Plenty of One Direction fans who have never had any interest in golf will have watched the event just to see him.

But of course he wasn’t treated with the same hostility that Spiranac has.

She said: “When it comes to the golf industry, I know that people see me as a gimmick. I don’t think I am. If I was a guy and I had the same social following, I don’t think people would call it a gimmick. They’d say it was great.”

Spiranac has now taken a break from playing professionally to focus on growing the game at club level.

She said: “People seem to think I got where I am because of the clothes that I wear. That’s unfair to me and unfair to all of my accomplishments. I probably do more community service than any other professional golfer. For people to say: ‘You only show some cleavage, that’s why you have what you have’, is unfair.”

She also visits schools to talk about the dangers of cyber bullying and share her own experiences.

“I had a lot of health issues growing up. I had asthma and bad social anxiety. I was one weird little kid. So I know how it feels to be an outsider, how it feels to be bullied, to have no friends, to be that person no-one wanted around.”

But now she looks very good in short skirts and bikinis, and she knows that. But that doesn’t take away the fact that she is helping to change golf’s image and make it seem more fun and inviting. Her selfies are no worse than any that the Kardashians, Instagram models or other ‘influencers’ are posting.

To reach outside of the mature golf club circles and encourage the next generation to get involved, we need social media stars like Spiranac fighting golf’s corner.

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