As a professional golfer, Natalie Gulbis has only one win (in 2007) since her rookie year on tour in 2002. Her current world ranking is 121. If you just look at her golfing statistics you would not assume she was one of the LPGA’s stars; but she is – mostly because of her off-course skills in marketing her personal brand.
This week she is in the news because she is in the 2012 Sport Illustrated Swimsuit edition and she isn’t exactly wearing a swimsuit. She is wearing body paint that looks like she has on a swimsuit. Her photo is very sexy and there is even a video of the photo shoot.
The debate that has come up is whether or not this is good or bad for golf. My question is why is this up for debate? Professional athletes have been posing provocatively for years in magazines and commercials (did people question if David Beckham’s Super Bowl underwear ad was bad for professional soccer?)
Anyone that follows golf knows that Gulbis has always marketed herself as a “sexy” golfer. She did her own swimsuit calendar for years, she posed in FHM (For Men Magazine) which is most known for it’s “sexiest woman in the world” list. She is often referred to as “a golfer, model, and business woman.” She seeks out publicity – she was even on the Celebrity Apprentice (not a high mark in my opinion).
One thing I do find interesting is the LPGA banned her 2005 calendar from being sold in the “souvenir shop” at the 2004 US Women’s Open. Yet, in 2008, she received the William and Mousie Powell award, given by the LPGA, to the player who “in the opinion of her playing peers, through her behavior and deeds best exemplifies the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.” For me, what her peers are saying is that Gulbis does a lot of good for the reputation of the tour. Why? I think because she also brings a lot of positive press to the tour via her charity work, her promotion of golf, and the exposure from the number of major bands she represents (i.e. MasterCard, Lexus, Adidas, Taylor Made, Sky Caddie, etc.)
As a woman, do I want women athletes objectified? — Of course not. But the reality is that sports are in the entertainment business and like any field of entertainment, sports needs savvy marketers –like Gulbis — to create awareness of their sport. You can approve or disapprove of her recent choice but you can’t discount her ability to bring awareness to her sport. And since the LPGA needs more fans, they need “personalities” like Gulbis — At least until they have another Annika to promote.