Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 27, 2017

Dress Code Is The Least Of The LPGA Tour’s Problems

A NOTE TO READERS: Happy July 27th birthday to Jordan Spieth, Alex Rodriguez, and me, also known as the good, the bad and the ugly! Thanks as always for your support.

The international road show that is the LPGA Tour has descended on Dundonald Links on the southwest coast of Scotland this week, for the Ladies Scottish Open. The tournament has been a fixture on the Ladies European Tour for years, but this season for the first time is co-sanctioned by both the LET and LPGA. The result is a near tripling of the event’s prize money, to $1.5 million, and a far stronger field than in previous years. The tournament has been further elevated by a three-year agreement to stage it on the same course as the men’s Scottish Open, a move pushed by Aberdeen Asset Management, the primary sponsor of both events.

With the LPGA’s fourth major, the Women’s British Open, scheduled for next week at Kingsbarns Golf Links on the other side of the country, the schedule now gives the world’s top female golfers back-to-back exposure to links golf, following a pattern informally set by a growing number of male players from the PGA Tour. While the men’s Scottish Open isn’t an official PGA Tour stop, because it’s scheduled just before the Open Championship many men now fly across the Atlantic early for some extra links rounds before the oldest major in golf.

The surprising leader after Thursday’s opening round was Australian legend Karrie Webb. It’s been more than twenty years since Webb’s rookie LPGA Tour season. In 1996 she posted four wins and was named the tour’s rookie of the year. By 2005, the year she was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Webb had thirty LPGA Tour wins, well on her way to her current total of forty-one, including seven majors. That latter count doesn’t include a pair of Women’s British Opens nor an Evian Championship, all won before those tournaments were designated as majors in 2001 and 2013 respectively. But Webb is 42 years old now and hasn’t posted a victory since 2014, so her sparkling 7-under par 65, which included a 30 on the inward nine, could hardly have been predicted.

Add on fifty-four holes and the leader board could look very different by Sunday, but the early standings were also positive for the U.S. contingent. World number three Lexi Thompson isn’t in the field, but six of her fellow Americans were among the twenty-five women who broke par in the first round. Two-time major winner Christie Kerr had a bogey-free 66 to sit one back of Webb. Former world number one Stacy Lewis turned in a typically steady round, finishing in a tie for 3rd with a 69. Jaye Marie Green, a 23-year old rising star who like many modern athletes commands a signficant social media following, battled back from three consecutive front nine bogeys to finish at 1-under par 71. The three were joined by Ally McDonald, Katie Burnett and Christina Kim as Americans in red numbers after one turn around the North Ayrshire links.

The six Americans of course left space in the top twenty-five for nineteen women from other countries. The Thursday leader board, and indeed the presence of the Ladies Scottish Open on the LPGA calendar are reminders of both the strengths and weaknesses of the women’s tour. The LPGA Tour truly is an international showcase of women’s golf at its highest level. Commissioner Michael Whan can point to rising purses, an increasingly full schedule, and the diverse membership of his tour as proof of that success.

But to many American golf fans the women’s tour is filled with unfamiliar faces. It’s not that fans in this country won’t support foreign-born players. On the men’s side golfers from Gary Player to Rory McIlroy have long enjoyed strong support, and plenty of American fans cheered the prolonged success of Annika Sorenstam during her reign at the top of women’s golf, as they did Inbee Park’s incredible string of three straight major wins in 2013. Unfortunately for the LPGA Tour of late, there has been no strong American presence to consistently counterbalance the foreign success. Thompson is a threat to win any time she tees it up, but she is also the only American currently ranked in the Rolex Rankings’ top ten.

The international expansion of the LPGA Tour also keeps it out of the United States. The good news is that of the seventeen weeks remaining on the Tour’s 2017 schedule, fourteen are filled with tournaments, and one of the off weeks is given over to the U.S. versus Europe Solheim Cup. But just three of those fourteen events will be held in this country. The globetrotting schedule, from Scotland to France to New Zealand to China, also makes Tour membership expensive, especially straining the budgets of young players rising from the developmental Symetra Tour with few sponsors.

For all of its recent growth, the LPGA still has much work to do to grow the women’s game locally, which makes the Tour’s recent decision to impose a dress code for both tournament play and related events like pro-am parties seem ill-advised. Any fan who has watched a tournament on television would be hard pressed to identify even a single play dressed inappropriately. While the pro-am parties aren’t televised, plenty of players post pictures from them on social media, and the participants look like young women dressed for a party.

At a time when many PGA Tour pros are showing up in collarless shirts, and Rickie Fowler regularly plays in joggers and high-top golf shoes, the LPGA policy prohibits racerback shirts without a collar, leggings except under a skirt or shorts, plunging necklines and specifies a minimum length of shorts and skirts.

Since LPGA Tour events have hardly been populated with golfers in provocative dress, it seems likely the real aim of the policy was to distance the Tour from the growing number of young women who are becoming social media stars by combining golf with good looks. Foremost among these women is Paige Spiranac, who played at San Diego State University and now toils at the mini-Tour level, with hopes of one day making the big time.

Whether the 24-year old Spiranac ever becomes a member of the LPGA Tour, she’s already better known than most current Tour players, with more than 1.1 million Instagram followers. No doubt some of those signed up for photos of Spiranac swinging a club dressed in a halter top and shorts. But having done so they soon learned that she is a tireless volunteer in the anti-bullying movement, having been subjected to cyber-bullying since her emergence on-line and in person harassment while growing up. At tournaments she plays in Spiranac also takes time to host clinics and workshops for children and young women in hopes of expanding youth participation in the sport.

Spiranac spoke out against the LPGA Tour’s new policy in an article in Fortune magazine. She and other skeptics of the dress code received an indirect boost from Thompson, who shared with her 288,000 Instagram followers a shot from a photoshoot done last year. It shows Thomson wearing an outfit from the early 1900s that covers her in multiple layers from head to toe with the caption “got my new LPGA dress code compliant outfit ready to go!” From Whan to Thomson to Spiranac, everyone’s focus should be on growing the game, not driving young players from it. Instead of spending time on a policy that does little more than body-shame young women, the LPGA should spend time developing sponsors for a few more events in the Tour’s home country.


  1. Thanks for this look at the women’s tour. I am woefully ignorant about Golf in general, but this BS about dress codes has opened my eyes.

    A belated Happy Birthday is in order here, Mike. We can’t have too many Leos among us. I am already prepping for The Lioness’ big day next week.

    • Thanks Allan. Hope you both enjoy the coming celebration!


      Michael Cornelius

      • Thanks, Mike we will enjoy it. The annual celebration starts on my wife’s birthday and continues until her her best friend/college roommate’s BD in the middle of August. ROAR!

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