Golf Sensation Paige Spiranac Appears To Have It All, But Now She’s Opened Up About Her Struggles

If you follow golf at all, you’ll almost certainly have heard the name Paige Spiranac. She’s like the Marilyn Monroe of the golfing world: attractive, blonde and prone to daring behavior. Nonetheless, she’s had troubles that have affected both her career and her personal life. And Spiranac has spoken openly about them in the hope that she can help others.

Spiranac has a huge Instagram following, and her social media photos appear to show someone both beautiful and successful. But, of course, Instagram will only ever tell half the story, if that. To gain a more complete picture of Spiranac’s life and career, you have to listen to her podcast, Playing A Round.

The young golfer has used her podcast, active since February 2020, to discuss her personal life and what matters to her. Parts of it are casual and funny, because she’s happy to talk about subjects such as sports and dating. But other moments are more serious, and there’s one thing Spiranac has made very clear: it isn’t easy being a pin-up.

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Though Spiranac has had some success in her golfing career – she was the highest-rated young player in Colorado back in 2009 – she doesn’t actually consider herself a sportswoman as such. Nowadays, she earns her money from commercial contracts rather than the sport itself. In June 2020 she told the New York Post, “I don’t play professionally anymore. I am in golf media.”

Perhaps that’s not too much of shock considering the backlash that’s been directed her way. In 2016 Spiranac appeared on the front of Golf Digest magazine, and some commentators responded very critically. For example, ESPN’s Sarah Spain said on the show Around the Horn, “I’ll give them props on finding a way to make it seem like it made sense to have this total nobody on their cover.”

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“’She’s the next big thing!’ How innovative! She takes her clothes off on Instagram,” Spain continued. “Way to go, Sports Digest.” Later the same day, though, Spain showed contrition on Twitter, writing, “Apologies to @PaigeSpiranac for flippant comment on ATH – she’s not actually naked on insta. Was a joke about Golf Digest ‘innovators’ line.”

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Spiranac has had plenty to say about the portrayal of women in sports. In July 2017 she penned an article for Fortune magazine criticizing new clothing regulations for women in golf. She wrote, “As both an ambassador for golf and an advocate for the continued progress of women’s rights and equality in society, I fear that these new rules are stifling the growth of the women’s game.”

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“Take the vague banning of ‘plunging necklines,’” Spiranac added. “What constitutes a plunging neckline? Most likely, this edict was put into place to eliminate the presence of cleavage. In that case, a curvier, fuller-figured woman would be chided and fined far more often than a woman with a smaller bust.”

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Spiranac continued, “In a world where women are continually and unwantedly sexualized, this new rule serves as yet another reason for women to feel ashamed of their bodies, and a reminder that to be respected, they must alter their behavior because of outside perception.” She believed that the new regulations were “perpetrating the outdated stereotypes about the connection between what a woman wears and her morals.”

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For her concluding paragraph, Spiranac stated, “I may not go down in history as the best female golfer to ever play, however my intent is to do whatever I can to grow the game. In the age of millennials, women’s rights, and female empowerment, I hope my voice helps to encourage the next generation of great female athletes and golfers to possibly stop social injustices and prejudices from creeping into the game that I fell in love with at such a young age.”

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It’s certainly easy to see why Spiranac has become a sporting star. She’s talented, beautiful and wealthy – reportedly, she’s already a millionaire. Whenever someone checks out her Instagram, they see an array of pretty pictures, the description “OG Insta golf girl” and almost three million followers.

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Of course, it isn’t all like that now – and it wasn’t like that in the past, either. As a child, Spiranac was a gymnast whose aim was competing in the Olympics. Because she was so focused on sports, though, her social life suffered. She was a sheltered kid who had few pals and didn’t really understand some typical teenage behavior.

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On a March 2020 episode of her podcast, Spiranac spoke about the “mean girl issues” she’d faced at school. Things became so bad, in fact, that eventually her parents ended up homeschooling her. “The gymnastics community is toxic,” Spiranac explained. “You just do what they say no matter what. It’s really scary. I never felt like I fit in.”

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After Spiranac arrived at college, though, everything changed. She rebelled against her parents and her sheltered childhood and became in her own words “a party girl,” frequently staying out and drinking. On her podcast, she recalled, “I hated myself because that was everything I was not supposed to be.” However, this only led to more bullying.

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In fact, people spread false stories that Spiranac had sexually transmitted diseases. She couldn’t take it anymore and switched colleges. Spiranac also harbored anger towards her parents. On her podcast, she admitted, “I was like, ‘What were you guys doing? How did you never teach me this and how did I never have a normal life?’ I resented them.”

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That same month, Spiranac also talked on her podcast about a time when she’d become the victim of revenge porn. Spiranac had given a nude photograph of herself to a boyfriend, because in her words she’d wanted to please him. As soon as they broke up, however, he’d sent the image to his pals – and that horrified her.

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As the photo was circulated more and more widely, Spiranac began receiving texts from people who’d seen it. She said on the podcast, through tears, “It was horrible. Just getting these random messages from people you don’t know and they’ve seen you in such a vulnerable way. It was disgusting.”

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Worst of all, though, was the response from the person who’d leaked the photo in the first place. Spiranac explained on the podcast, “When I finally confronted the guy and said, ‘I can’t believe you did this to me,’ he said – and I’ll never forget this – ‘You are the sl*t who sent it to me.’ He said, ‘You deserve this.’”

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For a long time, Spiranac lived in terror that the image would be posted on the web. She recalled, “I would wake up every single day, I would check my phone and be like, ‘Am I going to be on [gossip website] TMZ today? Am I going to be here, am I going to be there?’”

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“That was the worst part,” Spiranac continued. “I was constantly stressed out that someone was going to see it and someone was going to get it and that it was going to get out. Also, that was one picture. I don’t know what else he had or what he was going to release. If he did it once, he could do it again and again and again.”

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And things became even worse for a while, as Spiranac was sent blackmail and death threats. Finally, immediately prior to heading to a media conference, Spiranac was told by a stranger that if she didn’t pay up he’d post the nude image on the web. She made it clear at the subsequent conference that something bad was happening to her, although she didn’t go into detail.

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Spiranac was trapped and in turmoil. The image made another appearance during a golf party at Lake Tahoe. A fan who’d been talking politely to Spiranac suddenly pulled out the offending pic for her to sign, with fans and their children nearby. All Spiranac could do was cry.

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Eventually, the photo made it to the internet. Spiranac said, “I can never escape this picture. These little things kept happening where I was like, ‘Okay, I think I’m over it.’ Maybe a month will pass then it gets brought up again. And it gets brought up again, and brought up again and it keeps also reminding me of this guy and what he did to me and all of this trauma”

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Almost half a decade later, Spiranac was given the chance to be photographed in swimwear for Sports Illustrated. She says that she did so just so she could have some feeling of “control” back. Spiranac explained, “I felt so empowered and I was like, ‘Okay, if I’m going to do this, I’m doing it on my terms.’ And I took it back, I took my body back.”

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Spiranac has been through a lot, then. And in addition to everything else, she’s also struggled with anxiety and depression. In August 2019 she shared a vlog on YouTube in which she talked about those difficulties. “I live a very privileged and blessed life, and I realize that and I know that,” she said. “And I think a lot of times when I come out and talk about my anxiety and my depression that people say I shouldn’t feel this way because I do have a very blessed life.”

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“I don’t struggle with depression as much as I used to when I was in college, and I will share that story at some point as well,” the golf star continued. “Now, mostly in my life I just always have anxiety. I have seen people for it and the best way they described it is, I almost like hyper-focus.”

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Spiranac added, “How the doctor described it is that [my thought] almost turns into spaghetti. And all of a sudden, everything gets twisted and wrapped up together and then that’s when I crack, basically…. They say that, like, when the spaghetti gets twisted up, that’s kind of when I cry or have a release. And that’s when my anxiety kicks up a little bit.”

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Moreover, whenever the anxiety became really severe, Spiranac said, she developed physical symptoms. “It’s just anxiety at like the highest form,” she explained. “So I can’t breathe, I am crying, I can’t really move. So usually I’ll just kind of like lay down, get it out of my system and then I can kind of move on, but it’s difficult.”

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Although Spiranac said in the video that her depression was under control, she’s still spoken up about her past struggles with the condition. For example, in March 2020 she talked on her podcast about what her college experience of depression had been like. During her senior year of college, she said, the symptoms were so severe that she was bedridden.

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Spiranac explained that at the time she “just didn’t want to deal with life anymore.” Medication wasn’t working because she was consuming so much alcohol. Finally it all became overwhelming and she even considered suicide. She consequently went to the roof of a car park building, but thankfully she didn’t jump off as planned.

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Then, after the stress of the revenge-porn blackmail incident, Spiranac once again felt incredibly low in terms of her mental-health. In order to recover, she improved her diet and threw all her energy into sports and exercise. On the 2020 podcast, she explained, “Now with my anxiety and my depression, I just try to handle it head-on.”

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During a June 2020 episode of the podcast, Spiranac spoke again about her mental health, this time going into how it affected her playing the sport she loves. When she was questioned about the mental side of golf, she answered, “I have seen more sports psychologists than you will ever know. I have tried everything and anything.”

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Spiranac went on to offer some advice. “When you’re behind this imaginary visible line, you’re in your think box,” she said. “So, this is where you check the wind, you pick your club, you’re doing your practice swings. And then, as soon as you’re ready to go, you cross that invisible line and you’re in the play box.”

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The golfer continued, “You’re not thinking of anything else other than the shot at hand… All these negative thoughts seem to come into your head, but if you have a clear goal in mind of, ‘I’m in my play box now, all I’m going to work on is this shot that I have,’ it seems to really help.”

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To elaborate on that theme, Spiranac added, “You get so in your head and you’re thinking about everything, and you’re trying to do too much. You play your best golf when you’re confident and you’re not thinking of anything. So you want to try to eliminate almost everything that you can, to not be thinking of your mechanics, or not thinking of all these techniques that you have.”

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There was a time, Spiranac said, when she “just felt lost.” She explained, “When you get to that point, maybe take a little bit of time off. That seemed to really help for me. And play for fun… Try to just have a good time out there, and you’re going to play so much better if you’re relaxed and calm, and laughing, and smiling, and not so focused in on what your score is.”

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A few days after the podcast Spiranac spoke to the New York Post about how she dealt with bullying. “I think I’m an easy target to hate,” she said. “In the beginning I took [the criticism] hard, but it’s not important. Some hate is good because it means you are doing something different and it causes a reaction. You can’t create change if everyone agrees with you.”

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And Spiranac definitely wants to create some change. She told the newspaper, “There are so many women athletes who need to get more recognition. I would like to use my platform to amplify them. If we worked together, it would be better to bring a bigger spotlight to the sport.” She also happens to be an advocate for Cybersmile, an anti-bullying charity.

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The reaction to Spiranac’s speaking out has seemingly been a positive one. In the comments of her August 2019 vlog, for instance, a viewer wrote, “People look at you may think, wow, she’s beautiful and a pro golfer. She has it all, why would she be anxious or depressed? Anxiety and depression know no boundaries… Thank you for being brave enough to address it with us.”

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Another viewer commenter, “Thank for opening up, being vulnerable and showing another side of you! You could hear it in your voice and I know it wasn’t easy, but if it helped just one person it was worth it!” And that seems to be Spiranac’s goal. In a pinned comment on her video, she wrote, “To anyone struggling with anxiety, know that you’re not alone! It might not be fun, but there’s always help and ways to get through it.”

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