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The grounds at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania have become as much of a study in style as they are in substance. At least for this weekend.
At the edge of the driving range, Michelle Wie’s sequin encrusted backpack sat next to her golf bag as she took practice swings for the 2013 LPGA Marathon Classic.
On the putting green, Jean Bartholomew tucked a golf tee into the back of her pink baseball cap before she lined up the first of her putts. Bartholomew’s hot pink A-line skirt and white polo shirt offset her hat.
Around Bartholomew were golfers in patterned shorts, polo shirts with popped collars and tailored pants. Even a caddie held a Hello Kitty umbrella above a golfer as she gave her instructions.
In this day and age, both fashion and functionality are a part of the LPGA. While the standard golf brands of PING, Taylor Made, Callaway and Titleist dominate the field, athletic apparel companies such as Nike, Puma, adidas and Lululemon are tailoring their apparel offerings to jibe with the LPGA tour. Golfers are tailoring their presence not only to reflect their skills, but their personalities and brands.
“When you look good and you feel good, you play better,” said Jessica Shepley, who sported a canary yellow polo shirt, a white A-line skirt and a brown-and-white Bass Pro Shops baseball cap and finished with a five-under-par 66 in Thursday’s opening round.“You see girls dressing toward their personalities and how they feel comfortable. But at the same time, we’re also our own individual brands and we need to do whatever it is to distinguish ourselves.”
Unlike team sports in which players dress in uniform and uniforms, given that golf is an individual sport, it allows its players more leeway in the avenue of personal flair.
“A sense of personal style is important in the LPGA as with other individual sports, such as tennis,” said Heather Zeller, the founder of AGlamSlam.com, a website that highlights fashion in sports. “It's a way to further engage fans and keep the sport in the conversation. Golfers are making a statement with their clothing each time they hit the course, and the buzz can be as much about a player's outfit as their skill set.”
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After she completed her round in Wednesday’s celebrity pro-am, Amanda Blumenherst walked off the 18th hole and was easy to spot. Blumenherst sported a carnation-and-hot-pink polo shirt embroidered with the Nike swoosh, paired with matching A-line skirt and white wide-framed Jackie Onassis-style sunglasses.
“It gives us a little bit of something to distinguish ourselves from all the other players,” Blumenherst said. “We each have our own style, whether it’s a ribbon in the hair or bright colors. We try to do a little something different. I’m head-to-toe Nike so they kind of tell me what to wear and I love skirts. I stick to more of the girly side of the line.”
When Blumenherst watched the LPGA, she didn’t see the same styles or vivid colors she sees now among her competitors. She and Shepley agreed that the the trend in gravitating towards a personal fashion sense emerged within the last five years.
“Paula [Creamer], Natalie [Gulbis], they’ve always done a great job of having their personal sense of style and more girls are becoming more comfortable with it,” Shepley said. “They’ve been creating that for a long time now, and social media plays a part in that. There’s a lot of tweeting and sharing pictures and Facebook, so I think everyone’s conscious of what they’re wearing and what they look like.”
Zeller points to three LPGA players whom she considers tour's taste-makers.
“Natalie Gulbis, Belen Mozo and Suzann Petterson are among the consistently well-dressed LPGA golfers, yet they have distinctly different styles," Zeller said. "Many women stand out for a variety of reasons. Paula Creamer is always in the fashion conversation, thanks to her pink ensembles that match from head-to-toe. Inbee Park rarely shies away from a colorful polo. There are several trendsetters in their own right and it's great to see players across the board experimenting with their style."
At the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic last weekend in Waterloo, Ont., Mozo attributed style to an uptick in spectator interest, but said she adheres to a traditional standard.
“The cuter the girls and the better they dress, the more people are going to come,” Mozo told the Canadian Press. “That’s the truth of it. Maybe that’s why women’s tennis has more followers than women’s golf. But you also have to understand that there’s an etiquette in golf. The guys have a strong etiquette they’ll never break, with long pants. You’ll see more girls wearing tennis dresses. But you won’t see me doing it.
“I’m playing golf and you can still look good, classy and nice with a golf outfit.”
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Park enters Friday’s competition in a five-way tie for fifth. Thursday, she wore her standard apparel of shorts and a red-white-and-blue collared shirt. Her reasoning? It’s easy apparel to match.
Not coincidentally, Park is the No. 1 female golfer in the world in the Rolex rankings and is in pursuit of the LPGA’s Grand Slam. She’s won the LPGA’s first three majors this season and is in pursuit of the final two, the Women’s British Open in August in Scotland and the Evian Championship in September in France.
Does one lend itself to the other? Park didn’t say so, but explained a correlation between her play and dressing for success.
“You’ve got to be confident in yourself to perform well out there,” Park told the Canadian Press. “If you’re not confident in yourself, then you might not be confident in your golf. That’s important.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.