Using beauty, fashion, a keen eye for photography and some serious golf skill, a new breed of golfers have caught the attention of the national media, and more importantly, tournament sponsors who issue special tournament exemptions. Paige Spiranac has become the most famous female golfer to employ the social-media-fueled strategy, and she surely won’t be the last.
Chelsea Pezzola, a former University of Michigan golfer who recently caught the attention of Playboy and Maxim at the ESPYs and has amassed 26,000 followers on Instagram with just 300 posts, is following in Spiranac’s footsteps.
Pezzola is teeing it up at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters this week, and our Andrew Tursky caught up with her to discuss tournament preparation, what’s in her bag, her newly found media attention and the benefits of social media in growing the game.
Andrew Tursky: When did you start playing golf, and when did you begin realizing you could play professionally?
Chelsea Pezzola: I actually started playing golf when I was 5. My step dad got me into the game, and I started on a little par-3 course in Yardley, Pennsylvania. As I grew older, I started getting involved in more junior golf programs, and eventually my parents uprooted and we moved to Bradenton, Florida, where I went to IMG Academies. During that time I was competing against some of the world’s greatest players, from all around the world… that’s kind of when I realized that this is not only my passion and my love, but something I wanted to do career wise. Going through college, I had a really strong focus, and I was focused on my schooling and my academics. I became part of the Michigan Sport Business Conference, which was the first ever student-run Sports Business Conference. And in talking to all the speakers that we hosted, every single one of them said, “Follow your dreams, follow your passions, go pro, the jobs will wait.” Hearing that security, it really made me realize that I can’t turn down this passion and I really want to pursue it after college and give it my all.
AT: Did your parents uproot because of your golf career. Is that why you moved down to Florida?
CP: Yes. They were fortunate enough at the time they could both work out of the office remote, so they moved down to Bradenton for me, and then I went to IMG and they ended up just staying because who doesn’t love the Florida weather?
AT: You’re playing in the upcoming Omega Dubai Ladies Masters. How exactly did that come about?
CP: I was very fortunate to be invited by the CEO and Vice Chairman, Mohamed Juma Buamaim, and the entire team at Golf in Dubai. I was offered a sponsorship exemption, and I’m so honored and so thankful and so excited to play. I can’t wait to get over there and experience the culture of Dubai. It’s been No. 1 on my bucket list and to get this invitation to play and be part of such an incredible event I could not be more excited.
AT: What’s the preparation been like for the tournament?
CP: I actually moved out to Scottsdale, Arizona, to train with my coach Dave Yetstead. He’s based out here at TPC Scottsdale. I’ve also been training at Scottsdale National, Bob Parsons’ course out here. So I uprooted out here and we’ve been training for the last couple months really getting ready. We’ve been doing a lot of course work. My game has definitely improved a lot, and it’s feeling really good. I’m just really trying to focus mentally and get ready for a big tournament like this. So I’ve been competing a lot against a lot of players out here, and trying to get mentally strong, and trying to zone in my iron play and hit as many greens as I can.
AT: You mentioned Bob Parsons. What is your relationship with PXG, and are you gaming the clubs?
CP: Yes, I am playing their products. I absolutely love them. Since I switched to PXG, my game has improved tremendously. I cannot say enough good things about their irons, and I just recently got their woods. I’m absolutely loving it. The technology is incredible and the staff there could not be better at helping me get my game to the next level. I think technology is a big part of the game, and when you have the right sticks in your hand it makes everything a lot easier.
AT: Can you take me through the bag? What models of the clubs are you playing, and their shafts?
CP: I have the 0311 irons with the Nippon regular 850 shafts… I’m probably saying that totally wrong. Driver, I’m actually looking right now, I can tell you exactly. I have the 0811X with the Tour AD-DI 5 regular shaft. The woods, I have the newest 0341x with the Kuro Kage TiNi regular shaft.
AT: Thanks. Sorry for nerding out on you there…
CP: No, sorry that I’m saying it wrong. I joke because I love equipment, but I’m just like, I’m going to trust somebody who knows what they’re doing to put it in my hand, and if it feels right, it feels right. And those PXG’s definitely feel right for me.
AT: Switching gears a bit… you don’t hide your love of beauty and fashion on social media. What are your ultimate goals in professional golf, and how is social media helping you achieve those goals?
CP: I think, well, definitely my main goal is to make it to the LPGA, obviously. I’m working really hard to do that. It’s been my dream since I was 5 years old to be out there on the LPGA. At the end of the day, my other goal is to grow the game of women’s golf, and I think that’s where social media comes into play. It helps break down the walls and that exterior barrier of the intimidation of golf, and getting other females involved — and even males involved — via social media, showing them what I’m doing to train and showing them how much fun golf can be and the different environments you can take golf into. Just getting more people involved and growing the game, that’s where social media comes in for me.
AT: Do you see yourself as a role model for young girls? And if so, what’s your message to them?
CP: I try to look at myself as more of an influencer, to really help them get involved and show them the different avenues that they can take to really make it to the next stages. I’m a big believer in everyone brings something unique to the table, and I think you just have to find what that is and embrace it and follow your dreams. My advice to anybody is to be true to themselves and never give up. You get a lot of hate and criticism, but at the end of the day you just have to stay true to who you are and never stop chasing your dreams.
AT: So how did you end up at the ESPY’s, and were you surprised by interest from Maxim and PlayBoy?
CP: Oh yea, I was beyond shocked. I didn’t expect that at all. It’s always been a dream of mine since I was young to go to the ESPY’s. Like I said, it’s a big part of who I am, I love Sports Business, that was my major in college, and I’m so intrigued by all aspects of sport from the business side, to the playing side, to the marketing side, to kind of everything that goes into it. I’ve always really wanted to go to the ESPYs, and I kind of voiced this wish to a couple people, and the next thing you know I open my email to an invitation. And I could not be more thankful and more honored to have been invited, not only as an audience member, but to the red carpet and the body party. I went in just thinking I’d be kinda star struck, and so excited to meet the people I got to meet, I never in a million years expected the media coverage that I had gotten. So that was kinda crazy waking up one morning to all of that. I did not expect it, but it was definitely a really cool experience.
AT: How did you end up getting invited to the ESPYs?
CP: Well, I was fortunate enough to have a family friend that knew somebody inside ESPN, and through Will Helmina, my modeling agency. That was who I got the invitation from.
AT: In the last few years, there’s been a wave of Instagram models making a splash in professional golf. Does it give you encouragement that if golfers like Paige Spiranac can do it, you can too?
CP: Yea definitely. It just shows that there are other avenues. It brings attention to women’s golf, and that’s something golf hasn’t had in the past years as much. I think that’s what she really did and I admire her for that. I admire her for her hard work and dedication, despite all the hate, and criticism that she’s gotten. And it gives inspiration not only to me, but to other young females that are really trying to get involved. And it shows them ways they can get involved, and unique things they can do and ways to kind of show their journey. Like I said, everybody has their own unique path that they’re trying to take, and just by embracing that like Paige has, it shows they can really do it.
AT: Good luck out in Dubai and thanks for the time! Are you nervous for the start?
CP: I definitely think I’m… I’m nervous, you know it’ll be one of the bigger events I’ve played in, like I said I’m really excited and really honored to have this invitation. I really have been working hard, and I’ve done everything I can to prepare, so I’m just ready to go out there and compete. Nerves are never a bad thing. You just have to use them in the right way, so that’s what I’m really working on right now.