Paige Spiranac's year of redemption
Thirteen months ago, a shaken Paige Spiranac lined up to play a shot during the opening round at the Omega Dubai Ladies’ Masters. It was her first ever tournament as a professional. Her confidence was shot, her hands visibly shaking, and after finishing joint-last, she was hoping that the hole on the green was big enough for her to crawl into and disappear from sight.
Unfortunately, disappearing from sight is unlikely to be something that the 23-year-old American will ever be able to do. It is largely due to her model-esque looks and figure-hugging sports attire that the young American rocketed into the wider conscience of sport in the first place.
A product of sport’s modernity, Spiranac’s ascent came via social media, where she has gathered more followers than all the other professional women golfers combined. After a being featured in online stories, thousands of golf fans took to Spiranac with such fervour (“I woke up one morning and my Instagram followers had gone from 1,000 to 50,000!”) that the world’s media soon noticed.
As such, her first round on the Emirates Golf Club course was arguably one of the most hotly covered sporting debuts in history. Crowds flooded in, stalking her around the course as if she was Tiger Woods, with fans either wanting to see the beautiful upstart in person, or sadistically waiting to see her crash and burn. As far as most people were concerned, there was only one golfer on the course that day, and the media’s biggest and brightest bulbs focused on Spiranac’s every shot, smile and tear.
“It was crazy,” Spiranac recalls as we sit down for a chat the day after the Man At His Best Awards. “I knew there was going to be some media attention, but I had no idea just how much.”
Fresh out of college and only a year into her newfound social media fame, it was not only Spiranac’s first pro event, but also the first time she’d been outside the US. “All the pressure and the online abuse got to me,” she explains. “I had a lot of anxiety and I didn’t want to play. I locked myself in the bathroom and my sister had to talk me out! I felt I’d hit rock bottom.” Yet here she was a year later, infectiously smiling her way through a morning photoshoot with the Esquire team before being rushed off to go paddleboarding on the Dubai Canal, courtesy of a sponsor. “It will never get as bad as that,” she explains. “The media attention and hate will never be as fierce as it was on that day; so from there I can grow and become a better, more confident person.”
The ‘hate’ that she mentions is a particular point of interest. Unfortunately, with the rise of internet-fuelled insta-fame comes with its share of online abuse, and while Spiranac has had more than her fair share, they are not the people you’d generally expect to spew hateful online bile. “The majority of abuse actually comes from middle-aged men,” she says. “They tell me that I’m disrespecting the tradition of golf and so, occasionally, I write back explaining my intentions, to which they almost always apologise immediately.”
Miss Spiranac wears Blazer (Dhs1,875) Adriana Ingesias; Shirt (Dhs362) Cos.
Those intentions, she explains, are not to be the world’s best golfer, but instead to help grow the sport by appealing to a new, younger audience. “I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I can use my social media presence to do some good — to help grow the game by empowering younger girls to pick up a golf club,” she says. It’s a noble cause, and one made even nobler by adding that, due to the near-daily abuse that she receives, she has started campaigning to raise awareness for victims of cyber bullying. “I think there are more important things than being the number-one golfer in the world and I want to share that with others.”
In person, rather than the seductive bombshell her social media profiles suggest, Spiranac is sweet and endearing. She claims that away from the selfie shots, she is actually a shy and socially awkward person, which is exactly why she loves golf.
She mentions how she was “so nervous” at the Man At His Best Awards. “Listening to all the achievements of the other winners, I kept thinking Why am I here?!” she says. Well, having overcome one of the most intense professional debuts we can recall, as well as a barrage of online abuse, and emerge still fired up and with plans to use her Insta-fame for good, for us, it’s a no-brainer than Paige Spiranac is worthy of just such an accolade.
Photography by: Ethan Mann; Styling by: Daniel Higgins; Hair & Make up by: Mealnie Meyer