Is marketing the sex appeal of LPGA golfers good for the game?

Wilhelmina Seven
Hall: Robert Beck; Others: Courtesy of Wilhelmina Sports

AT THE LPGA'S SBS CHAMPIONSHIP IN February, seven players convened at a house on Oahu's North Shore for a photo shoot that quickly turned into a sisterly gabfest. Bags of peanut M&Ms and Red Vines were passed around while makeup was applied and bikinis were tried on. The conversation floated lightly from beach reading (the Twilight series is the rage on tour) to coveted hairdos ("I wish I could get mine to be long and kinda wild like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman") to, inevitably, their respective love lives. With a nod to an eavesdropping reporter, the players tried to speak in code.

"Anything new with...you know?"

"It's the same. We're still, like, hanging out."

"What about the other one?"

"Still there, if I want it."

Finally, Anna Grzebien stated the obvious: "We're talking about boys, of course. It's the only topic that matters."

Professional golf can be the loneliest pursuit, but the camaraderie is real among these players, who comprise the so-called "Wilhelmina 7." What started as a marketing gimmick has fostered a true team spirit. When Kim Hall was in contention to win last year's Bell Micro LPGA Classic, her six comrades followed her over the closing holes, hooting and hollering. "I haven't had that kind of support since college," says Hall, who went on to finish third.

The W7 was born last year when Wilhelmina Models, the global beauty factory that counts Rebecca Romijn, Fergie and countless runway glamazons as clients, decided to break into women's golf. The inspiration came when Dieter Esch, then the Wilhelmina chairman and now a company consultant, attended an LPGA tournament in Florida. "Like many people, I had certain stereotypes of LPGA players," Esch says. "I was surprised to discover how many of the players were young and athletic and attractive and very personable. To be honest, the tour has done a pretty pathetic job marketing its product, and I knew we could do much, much better."

Esch conceived the idea for the Wilhelmina 7 ("It could have been six, it could have been eight, but seven sounded right," he says) and set about cherry-picking young players who were still trying to establish themselves on tour and who were unencumbered by preexisting management contracts and endorsement deals. Esch is unapologetic that appearance dictated who he recruited. "This is how the world works," says Esch in his clipped German accent. "Beauty is used to sell everything. Why should golf be different?"

Wilhelmina hoped that the critical mass of grouping seven fresh-faced players would create enough buzz to attract corporate dollars, but in this economy no deals have been consummated. "There are very few endorsement contracts out there for anybody right now, so we're all just staying patient and trying to look at the big picture," says Mikaela Parmlid, one of the W7. "The time we're putting in now for the photo shoots and interviews will hopefully in the future lead to more endorsements." So the W7 thus far has been less an advertisement for Wilhelmina's marketing muscle than the bountiful charms of the seven spotlighted players.

Grzebien is a red-haired, freckled Rhode Island native with a fun, flirty vibe. Her active social life is the source of endless amusement and fascination to her fellow players. Hall is a blonde, blue-eyed Texan with an excess of spunk and palpable intelligence that served her well at Stanford. Doe-eyed, willowy Sandra Gal is six feet tall, seemingly all of it legs. Her shy demeanor belies an uncommon depth — Gal speaks five languages, including her native German. Minea Blomqvist's blond hair and blue eyes betray her native Finland. She is a sweetheart who surprises with a sharp wit.

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