Welcome to the X Blog: ESPN Mag "Body" Issue Edition
By Stephanie Wei under General

Stephanie Wei (Wei Under Par) and Jim Frank (Over The Green) have little in common other than they both play golf (occasionally) and both blog. With little more than that, they decided to create what they’re calling the “X-blog,” or cross-blog, where they’ll comment on the same issue in the game, and maybe have a few barbs/comments for the other, as well. To kick off the X-blog, Stephanie takes the first shot at ESPN Magazine’s “Body Issue,” which featured three LPGA players—Sandra Gal, Anna Grzebien, and Christina Kim—wearing little besides their smiles.

Stephanie: Now that it’s out, what do we think? Was this a good or bad idea? I’m going to go with “good (!).” And I’m pretty critical about these types of provocative photo shoots. But given that this was ESPN Mag (a legitimate sports publication) and dozens of other athletes (legitimate, respected ones) were also featured, I had no qualms from the get-go. As I expected, it was nothing close to Penthouse-esque — which is the image that many immediately conjure when they hear “nude” and photo shoot” in the same sentence — it was done tastefully. If more opportunities like this pop up for other ladies, I’d throw them my overwhelming support. BUT…only if it’s for a publication/outlet/organization that carries the same level of repute as ESPN. Otherwise, they run the risk of a second rate spread making them look like two-dollar prostitutes.

Now do I believe this will boost the popularity of the sport? Probably not. At least it won’t significantly. But it will increase awareness of the LPGA and help dismantle some of the less-than-attractive stereotypes of female pro golfers (you know, like, they’re all a bunch of ugly lesbians). I know guys have been drooling over the spread, but will they turn into diehard women’s golf fans overnight? Start following the LPGA compulsively? Watching on TV? Going to tournaments? Ehh…probably not. Unfortunately. A small percentage might, but not one large enough to make a huge difference for the sport overall — the LPGA isn’t going to gain the same following as women’s tennis from this. (Not saying there isn’t the potential for that down the line, though.)

However, the spread will help the ladies’ personal brands — they’ll probably be presented with more endorsement opportunities and their names will be more recognizable. And, really, this is a positive thing because even if it doesn’t help the sport overall immediately, it’s still a step in the right direction for the LPGA. Translation: It’s attention.

Jim: I agree with Steph that this won’t do much for the LPGA, and I doubt it will do much for the three players, either. Once someone, anyone, removes her or his clothing, there isn’t much mystery left. Which advertiser/sponsor is going to sign these women now? Dove soap (with its “real women” campaign?); Coppertone sunscreen (the only “cover-up” they need?); Weight Watchers? I doubt it.

More importantly, I don’t think posing will hurt these ladies, a key consideration given the state of the golf industry and the LPGA. If there are any repercussions—financial, social, or otherwise—that would be a bad sign for all involved.

The crux of the matter: LPGA/women’s golf is, was, and will forever be seen as subordinate to the men (PGA Tour, for sure, and for some, even to the Champions Tour, which is ridiculous). And so whenever women golfers do something like this it is seen as a bit of a joke, a plea for attention. Which it is. Interesting that there is no male golfer in “The Body Issue.” Golf doesn’t get the same treatment as other sports—in ESPN The Magazine and elsewhere—and I don’t believe their inclusion is due to a sudden understanding by the editors that golf, men’s or women’s, is an athletic pursuit. This is about sex, pure and simple. And that’s fine.

What it isn’t is groundbreaking. I worked at Golf Magazine for years and we produced an annual for the LPGA, called Fairway, in which we regularly dressed up players in evening gowns or other non-golf wear as a way to humanize and sex them up a bit. Everyone thought it was necessary and it was helpful. And fun. No harm, no foul, and done with the LPGA’s approval. As I’m sure this was, too.

Incredibly, people still talk about the photograph of Jan Stephenson posing lasciviously in a bathtub filled with golf balls. That was around 1983, I believe. Nearly 30 years later, women pros are still doing the same thing.

They deserve more respect and attention for what they do with their clothes on.