How ‘world’s sexiest woman’ polarized golf
Golf’s glamor girl Paige Spiranac has become one of the biggest and most influential names in the sport without ever playing on the women’s top professional circuit, the LPGA Tour.
One of the most polarizing figures in the sport, like her or loathe her, it’s undeniable that the American has made her mark, taking social media by storm in her tiny, tight-fit skirts and low-cut tops.
Rivaling Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in social media popularity, the 29-year-old posts glamorous photos on the golf course and has racked up 3.7 million Instagram followers, earning herself the title of ‘world’s sexiest woman’.
Spiranac also uses her growing platform to wade in on golf’s hottest topics, from the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Tour to dress codes.
Spiranac turned to influencing in 2016 when her attempts to break onto the professional circuit failed, so how did she go from LPGA dropout to social media siren?
Spiranac comes from sporting stock. Her father, Dan, was a football player who won the 1976 National Championship with the Pittsburgh Panthers, while her mother, Anette, was a professional ballet dancer born in Croatia.
She has said that her father is responsible for getting her into golf after making the difficult decision to quit gymnastics at the age of 12 and a flirtation with tennis.
‘From the first golf ball I ever hit, I dedicated everything I had to being a pro golfer,’ Spiranac said.
‘I was homeschooled. I practiced every single day, morning until night. It was my only goal. I was a highly ranked junior golfer and then at 18 I had to make the decision to go to college or turn pro.’
Along with the help of her family, she made the decision to take the college route to get experience playing on a team after having been homeschooled.
She went on to play Division 1 college golf at both the University of Arizona and San Diego State, leading the Aztecs to their first-ever Mountain West Conference Championship in her senior year in 2015.
During the summer before her last semester at San Diego State, Spiranac decided to continue playing golf and pursue a pro career but it came sooner than she planned when her ‘whole life flipped upside down.’
She became famous when the website Total Frat Move wrote a post titled ‘The Whole World is About to Fall in Love With Paige Renee, This Smokeshow Golfer From SDSU [San Diego State University].’ She gained more than 50,000 followers in a matter of hours, according to ESPN.
She blew up on social media and didn’t return to finish her last semester of college, never receiving her degree, despite being just two credits short.
‘BROKEN’ BY THE TOUR
Her overnight rise to fame garnered her an endorsement deal with equipment giant Callaway Golf and a sponsor’s invite to the Ladies European Tour’s Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, where she made her professional debut.
She then burst onto the scene in 2016 and picked up her first tour win on the women’s developmental Cactus Tour in Queen Creek, Arizona, at the Las Colinas club.
She ended the season with a few more high-placed finishes and pocketed $8,000 – a far cry from what she banks through social media nowadays.
But her professional golf career never really took off, making just one attempt to get her card to play on the LPGA Tour in her first Qualifying Tournament in August 2016 but ultimately not making it to the professional circuit.
In 2022, discussing Marshall football’s upset of Notre Dame, she joked, ‘Notre Dame is as bad as I was playing professional golf’.
In 2016, she called it quits on her professional career at the age of just 23, instead turning her focus to her social media endeavors, later admitting the struggles of golf ‘broke’ her.
‘I did one year of playing golf professionally and I was just mentally exhausted. In golf, you fail more than you succeed and I was doing that in the public eye,’ she said, via The New York Post. ‘Everyone was telling me, “You should quit. You should give up. You’re not good.”
‘All of these things, and I was already dealing with these mental issues of years and years and years of trying so hard and coming up short and I just broke. I honestly cracked. I broke and I just stopped. I said “maybe I’ll go back,” and I’ve never gone back to try and play golf professionally again.
‘It keeps me up at night to be honest because I feel like a failure and it’s really difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that I never made it — not as a gymnast, not as a tennis player, not as a golfer. It’s been hard. It’s really hard because I felt like I could do it and there was just something that was missing.
‘But instead of sitting down and feeling sorry for myself, I picked myself back up and threw myself into my media work. My background of just grinding, hard work has really helped me in my media career, because I work so incredibly hard — and the difference is here, the harder I work, the more successful I’ve become and I think that’s why it’s been a more fulfilling journey for me than professional golf… the outcome is positive.’
SOCIAL MEDIA SENSATION
While her professional golf shortcomings may have kept her up at night, quitting has turned out to be an extremely profitable career move for golf’s glamor girl.
By posting sultry photos in tiny golf outfits or bikinis and doing occasional trick shots, Spiranac has built an extremely successful business model.
She has garnered the most followers in the golfing world, beating even Woods, who pocketed $15million for finishing top of the PGA Tour’s PIP, a venture designed to reward players with the biggest social media following.
The American beauty is now worth around $3.7m, and rakes in an estimated $12,000 per Instagram post.
That is more per Instagram post than the likes of Woods and McIlroy, the biggest names in the men’s game.
Two thousand dollars more than Woods to be precise, with the 15-time major winner boasting just 3.1m Instagram followers compared to Spiranac’s 3.7m.
Her growing popularity has even launched her beyond the golfing social media stratosphere.
She landed a job at Super Bowl LVII in February, serving as a special correspondent for ‘Inside Edition.’
While on duty out in Arizona, she took part in a series of drills and shared a photo on Twitter of her taking down a tackling dummy, quipping, ‘How men expect me to act when they send d*** pics in the DMs.’
In 2020, she launched a podcast with industry giant iHeart Media. The series focused on sports with a sprinkle of sex.
In one episode she talked about her biggest turn-ons and in another she broke down her dating travails with various athletes, declaring that she would rather date hockey or football players than golfers, given that they ‘prefer to perform in silence.’
HIGH-PROFILE LOVE LIFE
Spiranac married personal trainer Steven Tinoco in 2018. The blonde beauty revealed that he had been supportive of her social media endeavors, even encouraging her to ‘show a little more cleavage.’
In June 2022, she revealed she had secretly split from Tinoco. Although it is unclear exactly when the former couple parted, Spiranac said during a Q&A round on her podcast that she wasn’t married ‘for very long.’
In November, her ex-husband announced he is expecting a baby with his new girlfriend, just months after divorcing the golfing star.
Freshly single, forming a golf power couple with Woods could be on the cards. The betting odds of that come in at +25000, according to TMZ, after Woods split from ex-girlfriend of six years Erica Herman, who is suing him over an NDA she claims she was forced to sign.
WILLING TO WADE INTO CONTROVERSY
However, she has not completely left golf behind for glamorous poses and lucrative endorsements, often wading in on the sport’s controversial topics.
She even triggered a feud with Phil Mickelson after the LIV chief rebel criticized a PGA Tour player for showing ‘four inches of ankle’ by wearing jogger style pants.
‘If Phil thinks that’s four inches, I feel sorry for his wife,’ Spiranac retorted.
She’s also previously poked fun at LIV golf defectors, sharing the intensely cringeworthy footage of celebrity chef ‘Salt Bae’ chasing after Lionel Messi for a picture in the aftermath of the World Cup final, and captioned it: ‘LIV players trying to say hi to Rory (McIlroy) at the Masters‘.
She surprisingly stuck up for Woods following his recent ‘tampon-gate’ at the Genesis Invitational in February.
Woods handed close pal and playing partner Justin Thomas a tampon during the first round of the Genesis Invitational, shortly after out-driving him on the tee, with cameras – unfortunately for Woods – capturing the moment.
Spiranac was quick to react to the situation and said: ‘If anyone tries to cancel Tiger over this we riot. It’s funny.
‘It’s interesting to see women outraged by Tiger slipping JT a tampon after out driving him but those same women will quickly tear me down for how I’ve decided to build my business. You can’t pick and choose when to be a feminist.’
In 2017, a year after she quit professional golf, she penned a column in Fortune that went viral, rebuking the Tour’s stringent dress code that had introduced a ban on plunging necklines, leggings and short skirts.
In fact, her outspoken takes on the sport, particularly towards modernizing it, have garnered her some praise.
Recently, the husband of tennis legend and another female icon in sport Serena Williams, Alexis Ohanian, praised her.
The Reddit co-founder only recently became interested in golf and took to Twitter to reveal his interaction with Spiranac.
‘Just had a call with Paige Spiranac – she’s the real deal,’ he tweeted. ‘Every brand trying to understand how to tell a story to the *next* generation of golf fans should be paying attention.’
SLATED FOR SEXUALIZATION
Spiranac has previously recognized that her target audience predominantly consists of men.
After she topped the male-dominated list of which golfers had the most followers on Instagram, Spiranac responded: ‘This just in. Men like golf and boobs.’
However, the Colorado-native has admitted that there are downsides to her popularity.
She has had to warn her fans of fake copycat accounts posing as her to steal money from them, claiming she has to ‘report at least 20 fake accounts every single day.’
She previously said she felt traumatized after a ‘Karen’ verbally insulted her over her outfit while she was on the course. The ex-professional said she was left physically shaken after being singled out by an elderly lady at a country club who thought Spiranac was wearing an inappropriate outfit.
She was also attacked by vile trolls who called her ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ after being named Maxim’s sexiest woman.
She claimed that while at university, she was stalked by a group of girls and was forced to delete her Instagram and change her name, which is why she now goes by Paige Renee on the platform.
‘I’ve been bullied my entire life,’ she previously said. ‘I get slut shamed, I get harassed, I get death threats for wearing the stuff that I do.
‘No one ever looks at the person I am or the good work that I do.’
DOES SHE HAVE FANS ON THE LPGA?
While she has been criticized for her self-promotion based on her sex appeal, she isn’t the first female golfer to be known for it.
Jan Stephenson became one of golf’s most talked-about women after she was on the cover of Sport Magazine’s 1977 ‘Sex in Sports’ edition and later posed for a photo in a bathtub filled with golf balls. However, she also won 16 times on the LPGA Tour and charged to the top of the women’s game.
But Spiranac claimed she had a ‘toxic experience’ during her playing days and was made to feel like an outcast.
‘I never felt like anyone was helping me or even wanted me there because of my brand and how I built my business,’ she has said on her YouTube channel. ‘That rubbed people the wrong way.
‘I understand and I get it. I can see why a lot of the women weren’t big fans of me because I didn’t have any accomplishments or wins and I was the one who was getting the sponsorship deals.’
In 2016, Spiranac landed the cover of Golf Digest magazine for the May edition, which is also said to have triggered some female golfers.
LPGA veteran Juli Inkster, who has 31 professional wins, said of Spiranac’s cover to the Golf Channel, ‘It’s kind of where our society is right now. I don’t agree with it, but it’s their magazine and they can do what they want.’
Meanwhile other LPGA players are said to have lamented it, causing fans of Spiranac to brand them jealous.
But, perhaps they’re not jealous but merely frustrated. Since its founding in 1950, Golf Digest has had 23 issues with women on the cover. Nine of those shared the cover with other male pros, and three had non-professionals on them (including TV personality Holly Sonders, model Kate Upton and social media starlet Paulina Gretzky). Eleven female professional golfers have had their own cover.
Spiranac even said she didn’t deserve the cover and tweeted to then No. 1 golfer Lydia Ko that she hopes she gets the cover she deserves.
SELF-PROMOTION FOR THE SAKE OF THE WOMEN’S GAME?
Yet, despite often finding herself in the firing line, Spiranac regularly sticks up for women’s sport.
In January, she became embroiled in a Twitter spat with self-proclaimed ‘alpha male’ and popular conservative figure Nick Adams.
‘Can’t there be a par 3 course set aside for the slow female golfers so they don’t clog up the championship courses on the weekends?’ Adams wrote on Twitter.
‘There’s no reason women should be allowed to slow down the pace of play on a beautiful Saturday like today!’
Spiranac replied: ‘It would be so satisfying out driving you all day long.’
She also stuck up for LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne after she was slammed by a prominent women’s basketball coach for upholding sexism in sports.
Although Spiranac said she’s happy with what she’s doing now, she still thinks about a professional career.
‘If I had the choice to be doing what I’m doing to play on the LPGA Tour, I would probably pick the LPGA Tour because that was just a goal that I’ve always wanted to achieve and it was a dream of mine — and I wish I could’ve check that off before I went over into doing media work full-time,’ Spiranac said. ‘But that’s not how life works.’