Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s creative chief executive, no doubt will be cheering ShopRite LPGA Classic officials for finding a novel way of awarding the last exemption spot for their upcoming tournament. This route won’t have anything to do with qualifying rounds or past performance; instead, it will be the player who gets the most votes on Twitter.
Even now, they are down to the “semi-finals,” with Scotland’s Carly Booth, American Blair O’Neal, India’s Sharmila Nicollet and Bolivia’s Susana Benavides the players in question. Needless to say, they are all good-lookers. Twelve thousand votes, would you believe, were cast within the first three days of the venture first coming to the public’s attention this past Monday. (The vote is open through midnight May 8, and the tournament is scheduled for June 2-4.)
— ShopRiteLPGAClassic (@ShopRiteLPGA) May 1, 2017
Yet before Pelley gets too excited and starts doing the same with the men (Ian Poulter would be poised to win that one) this is not really a first. Rather does it smack of what happened in 1990 when Giles Hennessy, who was looking for a couple of Americans to spice up the field for his women’s Hennessy tournament in France. He did what everyone else in his position would have done in poring through the LPGA’s media guide, only in his case he did not look at results; only the players’ pictures.
In the end, he came up with Deborah McHaffie and Tammie Green. Needless to say, the two were more than somewhat startled to learn why they had received their invitations and the dollops of appearance money that went with them.
Green may have been a tad bemused that her victory in the previous year’s du Maurier Classic, a major, did not come into the equation but if she was she didn’t mention it. Instead, she reacted perfectly when she and McHaffie were seized upon by the media: “If I’ve been chosen for my looks, I’m flattered.” McHaffie, who, if I remember aright, was a tall, stunning girl dressed in zebra stripes, was similarly taken with the whole unlikely business.
Even their fellow competitors, most of them Europeans in those early years of the Ladies European Tour, took the news better than the feminists of the day would have wished. Though a few harped on about how the extra places should have gone to more worthy causes – i.e. players who were coming back from injury problems – they mostly managed a “Good for them” or its equivalent. Which, of course, made sense in that they would have been mighty foolish to make trouble for one of their more generous sponsors.
Arguably the best outcome of that particular incident was the number of caricatures it sired. The best of them showed a mixed bag of women being addressed by the starter ahead of an open meeting. The caption read as follows: “I can assure you, ladies, that none of you was asked here for your looks.”
All these years later, you would have to assume that whichever of Booth, O’Neal, Nicollet and Benavides comes out on top will be no different from Green and McHaffie in hogging all the pre-tournament publicity. Anna Nordqvist might get a mention as the defending champion but not too much more.
Yet where things are altogether different this time around is in what the women can learn from it. Namely, that while you can make your name and money by doing well in tournaments, it doesn’t do any harm to have a second string to your bow. Not every pretty girl will want to bother much with social media but maybe, for the sake of her tour as much as herself, she should.
Booth makes for a fascinating case study. This 24-year-old Scot was a hugely talented junior who went on to win twice among the LET professionals in 2012. This year she has notched one eighth place and has earnings of £17,273.53 on the LET’s Order of Merit. However, no-one needs to worry about how she is keeping herself afloat.
Like O’Neal, Nicollet and Benavides, she is thriving on her mix of good looks and good use of social media. No wonder her sponsors feel they are on to a winner when she has more than 62,000 followers on Instagram and as many as 35,000 people following her on Twitter.
What else can she do?
If something else is needed to separate the quartet, Carly would win hands down – quite literally. She walked round the 18th green on her hands at St Andrews ahead of the Curtis Cup match of 2008.
It got her into trouble that week but, ever since, it’s been arguably the strongest club in her bag.
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