The participation of American Paige Spiranac, known more for her social media skills than golf, in the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters is dividing opinions.
There are some like the legendary Laura Davies, who may not have said it in so many words, but made her displeasure known when she said she did not “know her from a bar of soap”.
It’s not as if Davies was feigning ignorance. Given her experience of Facebook or Twitter, which is shockingly close to zilch, she can be pardoned for having no idea who Paige Spiranac is, but that surely isn’t the case with most people constituting Generation Y.
For the uninitiated, Spiranac is a golfer who had done well for San Diego University before turning professional this year. She has won a couple of events as a college player, but does not have a card on any Tour. She does aspire to be on the LPGA Tour, and is working towards that goal.
And yet, despite not playing even one professional tournament so far – the Dubai Ladies Masters is her pro debut – she has more followers on Instagram than world No1 Lydia Ko (38,800 followers), No3 Lexi Thompson (109,000) and Michelle Wie (the most popular lady golfer with 176,000 followers).
Just 95 posts so far have earned her more than 474,000 devotees, as well as a sponsor’s exemption in Dubai Ladies Masters, a decent contract with Callaway, coverage in Golf Digest and air-time on The Golf Channel.
There may be question marks about her golfing ability, and it will be cruel to pass judgement without seeing her in action in her first professional appearance on Wednesday, but there is no doubt that Spiranac connects with the Millennials – the demographic every sport organiser, or sponsor, is trying to entice.
— Joy Chakravarty (@TheJoyofGolf) December 7, 2015
Given that, you really can’t blame the organisers for inviting Spiranac, even though there will be many who’d always think another player from the Tour, or an amateur from the region, would have been a better and more deserving choice.
So, there are two ways of looking at how successful her participation has been. Either we look at her scores, or we look at the internet hits that she has generated for the tournament.
From a Sport360 point of view, our pre-event story on Spiranac, retweeted by her, generated the most number of likes ever for any women’s golf story we have published.
There is a possibility that Spiranac won’t event make the cut, but should we treat that as failure? It will have to be measured against the fact that this is only her debut as a professional, and that she is making her first trip outside America.
— Joy Chakravarty (@TheJoyofGolf) December 8, 2015
Just for the sake of comparison, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy – two of the greatest golfers of recent times – did make the cut in their professional debut. McIlroy was tied 42nd in the 2007 British Masters, while Woods was tied 60th in 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open.
But what about them playing in a professional tournament for the first time ever? Woods actually missed the cut in his first seven starts on the PGA Tour, while McIlroy had to wait for two years before making his first cut in a professional tournament – at the 2007 Dubai Desert Classic.
Really, if Spiranac makes it to the weekend, it will be a fantastic achievement for her. And even if she doesn’t, the move to invite her to play will go down as fantastic, out-of-the-box thinking by the organisers.