A PGA golf pro has become embroiled in a row over whether women using their looks to grow their profiles and make money is good for sport, with a former female competitor arguing that men do not have “responsibility” to look good.
Former European Tour golfer Sophie Walker says that Paige Spiranac, the social media sensation known for her revealing outfits and Instagram following of more than 3.1 million, was a “pioneer” who has inspired others to follow her lead in making the most of her looks.
Walker argues that the likes of Carly Booth, the Scottish three-time European Tour winner, should continue to be proud of the bodies they have spent hours honing in the gym, and said that she does not see a woman bulking up like male hulk Bryson DeChambeau, adding that men and women are treated differently when they show emotions on the course.
“She’s tapped into something which no-one else had and it’s become a big business,” Walker said of Spiranac, explaining to Rick Shiels how a pro golf event the 28-year-old attended had taken on an awkward edge.
“When she started to get invites to events, I think even she felt uncomfortable with that. She openly spoke about crying the night before playing in Dubai.
“I don’t know if she’d even left America and she turned up in this new country with 130 girls. It’s like, ‘what are you doing here?’
“I felt, at the beginning, having known her, she was in quite a vulnerable position and people were taking advantage of her. At least now, she’s earning money from what she’s doing and owning it.
“She’s sticking up for herself against the trolls and not changing herself, and I like that more.”
Fans are used to seeing leading female athletes flaunting their figures as part of lucrative sponsorship deals via social media, with the likes of tennis stars Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, MMA fighters Paige VanZant and Rachael Ostovich and boxer Ebanie Bridges all showing canny business acumen to add significantly to their earnings away from the sport.
Spiranac, who has spent years creating content and is best known for her demonstrations of how to hit shots while wearing eye-catching outfits, told her own podcast that she was frustrated by having to answer questions about whether such an approach is “good for golf” or not.
Shiels has maintained a friendly relationship with Spiranac through social media, and remained diplomatically silent when the topic was initially brought up.
“She’s always out there in beautiful weather swinging the golf club fantastically,” he later explained.
“She’s obviously a very talented golfer – she probably would admit that she wasn’t talented enough to make it on the full tour, which is super-hard to do.
“For golf, she’s an unbelievable role model. It would be wrong to say she doesn’t bring people in – she doesn’t put people off golf, let’s be honest.
“She’s the original Instagram golf girl. Companies wrongly utilized her in a way that she maybe wasn’t quite switched off enough at the time.
“Now she’s got a business lined up: she will charge a lot of money for appearances, ads and sponsorship deals. The interaction [level] she gets on her posts is outrageous.
“The only thing that I think some think is a downside is that she is using her beauty, her sex appeal as an advantage. If I had it, I would do that as well.”
Responding to a question about the row from one of her many online admirers, Spiranac described the debate as “just a small little fight” and said it would be “fun” to join Shiels’ podcasts.
One fan asked her to imagine the flack a “guy golf influencer” who made “videos shirtless flexing his pecs before he bombs a drive” would receive. “People would give him so much s***,” they added. “Like, dude – you don’t have to do all that to show me how to chip.”
Spiranac fired back: “They do and no one says anything. It’s that way in a lot of industries.
“Men can use their bodies and looks but when women do it they are called attention seekers or wh*res. There’s a big double standard.”
Image-conscious sportspeople can be prickly when they are challenged over sponsored posts. “You can’t have it both ways,” warns Guy Charnock, Shiels’ co-host.
“You can’t be gaining new subscribers and then be upset when people say you’re sponsored, because new people have questions to ask
“It’s not an issue with influencers; it’s an issue with people who choose an easy way to get followers.”
Walker agrees and is dubious about women feeling obliged to strip down. “I’ve had Zoom chats during lockdown with female coaches who are trying to make their way in the coaching environment,” she revealed.
“They’re saying to me, ‘do I have to put a picture like that up?’ I can see every now and again that they’re doing it and it’s not them, but they feel like they’ve got to do it.
“Paige works really hard on her body, she’s got a great body. If that’s what you want to do, own it. Don’t do it because you want likes and you feel like you should do it.”
Now also a commentator, Walker believes there has been progress in how seriously female sport is taken and can see the value that women carry for sponsors.
“In women’s sport, there’s more value [now],” she said. “Once upon a time, I would open a newspaper and the only time women’s sport would be in it would be towards the front pages and it would be that something negative had happened or someone had done a calendar.
“It’s now on television and the backpages. I don’t think women need to do [post modeling photos]. If someone wants you to do that, question it.
“Carly Booth has got one of the best bodies in golf. We joke, ‘best legs on tour’ – but she worked really hard to get that, she’s in the gym constantly. If she wants to do that and feels comfortable doing it, then do it.
“I can’t see a woman wanting to do what Bryson’s done to his body, bulking up to that extreme. [Sportswomen tend to be] slight and fit – not stacked, I suppose.
“I think that’s [Williams’] natural fit physique. She’s muscular. Her sister’s [Venus] lean, she’s not.
“You would never talk about this to a man. Is muscular seen as a bad thing in women’s sport? If a woman slams a club, she’s aggressive. If a man slams a club, we laugh at it.
“I’d always make sure I had makeup on when I play golf – I’m pretty sure men don’t. I’d always make sure my outfit was spot on, that it was comfortable.
“Women have a responsibility. We spend loads of money on our hair, nails, all that anyway.
“If you’re a sponsor, you’re never going to have to worry about that.”
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