Sexy Golf: Isn’t the Game Cool Enough?

I ran across an article from 2004 this week that discussed a possible suspension (or fine) of LPGA tour member Laura Godfrey – for not being pretty or sexy enough to appear before the public. At first glance, I assumed that this must be a player who flaunted the dress code or some other personal expectation that comes with the game. Either that, or the article was intended as a joke, and I just wasn’t getting it.

In case the article was real, I will state for the record that I believe in dress codes and looking well-groomed in the public spotlight. After all, most of us don’t attend weddings in flip-flops and Bermuda shorts, or dine at the Ritz in sweats. I also notice beautiful people, just like everyone else does. If one is beautiful according to the edicts of Madison Avenue (a criteria-setting industry created by wizened old male trolls in green visors behind roll-top desks), or represents a fashion or cosmetic company, no problem – represent it well. These industries have created some beautiful stuff. There’s no crime in looking good or letting someone know it, so long as it’s your choice. If you think your swing is sexy, keep swinging.

However, despite the absence of corroborating photos for my enlightenment, the article went past matters of public appropriateness into more complicated issues. “Frumpy?” All right, that could be a fashion/cosmetic question, but “overweight? Oddly pear-shaped?”  That comes dangerously close to the old saw that weight equals character flaw, and that all bodies work the same way pending enough self-respect to make them attractive to male viewers. And that, as it turned out, was at the heart of the campaign. In the Marketing Department’s own words, the gist was to “eliminate unattractive women with no fashion sense from the mainstream sports landscape.”

The male higher-up put it in the “ugh, grunt, belch” dialect so that men (apparently he thinks we’re all the same, or should be) would understand as well – “Where does Miss Godfrey get off being a dog…she should be hiding in an underground bunker, not representing the LPGA.” Speaking of recent triumphs in raising the tour’s “sexy” standard, he continued – “They took those broads, dolled ’em all up, put them in evening gowns and displayed them like trophies.” He said a lot more, but I’m weary of quoting him.

Such language has nothing whatsoever to do with the appreciation of another’s beauty, and in fact, glorifies an ancient problem, increasingly unwelcome in society. Every creature with a pulse knows what he or she deems to be “sexy,” but in expressing it outwardly, an endless supply of alternatives to such crassness is available, even if it’s overt departmental policy. The tour is filled with beautiful young women. We all know it and acknowledge it – but believe it or not, many of us are primarily here for the excellence of LPGA golf and the drama of healthy competition. Many of us see, in the players’ faces, our daughters and granddaughters. Many of us are captivated by their stories. For many of us, sexy doesn’t always rule.

 The founders of the LPGA represented every height, weight and body shape imaginable, and we esteem them for what they did, who they were and how they played. The Marketing Department avowed that athletes such as Billie Jean King and Nancy Lopez (two of my favorites) just wouldn’t do in the modern era. It’s a shame to think of Berg, Wright and Whitworth, Laura Davies or John Daley being shoved off camera by an eye-liner company, or having their accomplishments filtered through a metaphorical swim-suit competition because they just look like people.

To my knowledge, “oddly pear-shaped” men on the PGA tour are, for the time being, safe from being “sexied up,” interesting as that might be to some. I, too, spent many years in a public performance profession, put in the hours, competed and succeeded. How fortunate that no one decided I should look like Brad Pitt – I might have lost my life’s work on a DNA violation.

That article came out seven years ago. A lot of beautiful people are still playing good golf on the tour, so I suppose that it’s all right to exhale.  I still don’t know what Laura Godfrey looks like or what happened to her case, and wish that someone would write in and tell us. I do know one thing, though. My esteem for the LPGA tour was set long ago on powerful and diverse criteria, including a lot of hard work by people who just looked like the rest of us. If the tour wants to be sexy, more power to it, but Marketing should know that I don’t need Barbie Doll golf to make me keep watching.



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