The following essay and selected advertisements compose a tribute to the profitable, occasionally strange, often beautiful, decades-long marriage of golfers and the printed advertisement. View the full feature here.
For little girls who loved playing golf, like me, watching our heroines on the golf course was an anomaly. The LPGA wasn’t on TV much, and seeing them in any kind of advertising was even scarcer. Still, it didn’t stop me from dreaming of what it would be like to play on the LPGA one day, hitting putts from various locations on the putting green and saying, “This putt is for Anya Alvarez to win the U.S. Women’s Open.”
Most of the stories I heard about female golfers came from my father. A golf-history fiend, he would often sit me down and talk to me about the likes of Babe Zaharias, who triumphantly won the Open in 1954 after battling cancer the year before, or Nancy Lopez’s illustrious career as a young golfer who had to play on her high school’s boys’ team because there wasn’t one for girls. He also taught me to admire the swing of Laura Davies and encouraged me to hit the ball as hard as I could, just like her. My father loved good golf; it didn’t matter to him if it was a man or a woman.
When Se Ri Pak charged onto the scene in 1998, my father was mesmerized by her swing. He had me watch video cassettes of tournaments he’d recorded that she’d played in.
“Watch her rhythm, Anya. See how balanced and smooth she is,” he would tell me.
I became equally enchanted.
Yes, her swing was smooth and powerful, but she had a focus when she walked. You could see the gears in her brain turning over each shot, methodically working her way around the course, seldom, if ever, making a mental mistake. She also had something that I was self-conscious of as a young girl: strong and substantial legs, which helped her become one of the longest hitters on the Tour at the time. Later I would discover that Pak developed her sturdy base from competing in track before turning to golf in her teens. Upon learning this, I was often seen running around the neighborhood to get stronger like her.
I cherished those video cassettes, and whenever I found Se Ri or Nancy or Annika in an advertisement, I didn’t care what brand they were hawking; I was just thrilled to see them. It meant one day I could do it too.
I saw Pak play in the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 at Blackwolf Run when I was 9 years old and was enthralled by the magic she possessed on the course. If you’re a true fan of golf, you’ve seen her shoeless shot from the hazard on 18 on Sunday. You know the heartbreak of watching her fail to get up and down to win in regulation, and the awe of seeing her outlast upstart amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn for 20 holes in the playoff. She became a national hero in South Korea, and in the Alvarez house.
So, four years ago, when I qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run, I felt slightly overwhelmed. Everything culminated that week: the practice swings and the VCR viewings, the laps around the track and the cutout ads. It all made me believe anything was possible. The VCRs and the magazines are mostly gone now, and the spotlight still isn’t bright enough, but when I see today’s young LPGA players getting the star treatment, it makes me believe again.