Sex sells, but it also diverts the public’s attention away from golf for women who have spent e
Sex sells, but it also diverts the public's attention away from golf for women who have spent e

Michelle Wie, who won the 2014 U.S. Women's Open, agrees, adding that she thinks pros should do whatever they can to drum up interest.

“I love the big crowds. I actually think I play better with more people watching me” Wie said. “It's the reason why I play ... to inspire other people, and it feels great.”

It's baffling that she isn't there already. The World Golf Hall of Fame is often ridiculed because of how easy it is to get in. Until recently five people were inducted every year. Even writers adorn the Hall of Fame walls, and when golfer Colin Montgomerie was inducted in 2013 despite never winning a major, it prompted such disgust that the organization suspended its induction ceremony for a year and changed the admission criteria. This year's class saw three golfers and one course designer take their place in the hall, and there was Stephenson, with 16 LPGA Tour wins and three majors, on the outside looking in.

“A lot of what I did was ahead of my time,” she says. “People didn't understand it and not everybody liked it. Remembering the old stuff, I'm sure that has something to do with it.”

Jan says she started down her path as a way to boost interest for the tour when it turned into something bigger. Not that she's complaining. She enjoyed the added attention, but it hurts her to think that may be why she's getting overlooked.

Like a campaigning politician going negative, an athlete selling themselves as a sex symbol can pay huge rewards but also cause irreparable damage

“It's frustrating for female golfers,” World No. 3 Stacy Lewis said on the subject last year. “It's the state of where we've always been. We don't get the respect for being the golfers we are.”

This remains a choice only female athletes have to make. Every professional athlete thinks about branding, but for men it usually goes no further than choosing a color scheme. Tiger Woods opted for the Sunday red. Rickie Fowler made orange his signature. Bubba Watson swings a pink driver. Female professional athletes are given a different set of circumstances entirely. They either risk going unnoticed, or they deliver what the market demands and use their physical attractiveness to gain attention.

Then they're left dealing with ramifications that often come in waves, from different directions: there's sneering from those who think they've sold out but also criticism from those who expect them to play up to the unreasonable standard their new popularity seems to demand.

She played because she loved it and wanted to win

Jan Stephenson, like Anna Kournikova, Danica Patrick and countless others, made the latter choice, and it has defined her public image. She didn't start playing golf to get famous. Most people remember her in the pink shirt. She remembers herself as a gritty competitor.

“I would have to label her the player who worked the hardest on her game,” Nancy Lopez, who won the same number of majors as Stephenson and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987, told ESPN. “The whole sex-appeal thing. I don't even think that's who Jan really was.”

”Jan Stephenson, the prettiest girl to have a lot of golf talent, is a walking soap opera,” one unnamed LPGA Tour player told the New York Times at the time. “And one must bet that, like all soap operas, if it isn't this current thing it will be something else. Soap operas are not supposed to ever end, are they?”

“You know, I understand the criticism, but that's me and I'm proud of the work I do in the gym,” 20-year-old Lexi Thompson, who posed topless for Golf Digest's controversial cover in May, said. “I have absolutely no regrets about it.”

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