Straight Shooter: Paige Spiranac is never afraid to say what’s on her mind

The following appears in the June Gambling and Golf issue of Mile High Sports Magazine

Paige Spiranac, golf’s queen of social media, is never afraid to say what’s on her mind. The Colorado native has amassed quite the following for her golf game, and she sat down with Mile High Sports for an exclusive chat about her career and the golf world.

You can read the digital version of the magazine by clicking here.

MHS: This issue essentially kicks off golf season in Colorado. What is “golf season” like for Paige Spiranac, or is it 24/7/365? Walk us through a day, a week, a season in the life of Paige. 

Paige Spiranac: Growing up in Colorado, I definitely know how the winters can be. It’s been a little different lately, obviously COVID pretty much changed everything. But normally I would have events pretty much all summer, pro-ams, really anything like that. I’m playing at least three times a week now, shooting content – YouTube videos, Instagram, really anything I can get – and then I just play for fun, too. I usually choose to try to play for fun on a Monday or Tuesday with my friends. But golf season is year-round. I’m always playing. It never stops. 

You’ve become wildly successful as a media personality in the sport of golf. But it all started because you were a very, very good golfer – both collegiately and even professionally in the Ladies European Tour and the Cactus Tour. How difficult was the decision to stop playing professionally? That seems like one of the toughest decisions in sports – after all, the difference between qualifying for the LPGA and not can literally be one stroke. 

I was a competitive gymnast trying to go for the Olympics but ended up fracturing my kneecap twice. At that moment in my life, I basically was in the gym seven hours a day, every single day. And I was 10 years old. I quit when I was 13. So, I was looking for something to replace gymnastics, and that’s how I found golf. As soon as I started golf, my sole focus was to be a professional golfer. I was homeschooled from fifth grade until college, and I was a top-ranked junior golfer. I spent hours grinding on the driving range – like sweat and tears into it. College was a bit of a struggle for me; I went to University of Arizona first and then transferred to SDSU and ended up having a decent college career, but not that great. It was more of a grow up period for me; It was a hard transition from being homeschooled and then going straight into college and being around kids my own age, which is something I never experienced before. So, my golf game really struggled. 

But after college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. There wasn’t a clear path because I was struggling with my golf game and I’d lost a bit of the passion for it. And that was a hard realization.  Throughout junior golf and college, all I wanted to do was play professionally. I wanted to be on the LPGA tour more than anything. I talked to my dad and he said, “Let’s give it a year.” And I was like, “Okay, I’m going to dedicate everything I have, and I will play golf for a year.” 

The problem was that I didn’t have a lot of money. I didn’t have any financial backing from my parents. They were struggling at the time. I had to caddy and do junior golf clinics, kind of paying for my golf career, playing professionally. Out of nowhere, someone wrote an article about me and I literally blew up overnight. I went from having 1,000 Instagram followers to 50,000. I started to get inquiries from different golf companies and was slowly getting into that only as a way to pay for my golf career. Because again, I had nothing. I was trying to balance both of them and it was really, really difficult. The more success that I had in my media career, the more it hindered my golf career. I was different, and in the golf industry a lot of people don’t like things that are different. I had a ton of hate and lost focus on my playing career. If I shot anything over 75, I’d go on social media and it’d be hundreds of thousands of hate messages and telling me to quit and give up the game. It was very difficult. I ended up getting a sponsor invite to play an LET event in Dubai. And I bombed it because I just had so much pressure on me. It was my first big pro event, and I couldn’t handle it. I literally couldn’t handle both (careers). So I kind of stopped with the media. I didn’t do as many photoshoots or posts on social. 

You narrowed the focus back to golf.

I did the bare minimum, just so I could still make enough money to pay for my golf. But I wanted golf to be the main focus. I ended up making the cut at an LET event at the Scottish Open. I got a pro win on the Cactus Tour. I played in 20 tournaments or so and made money in all of them but two. I was playing really well and felt great about my game. I went back to Dubai for the second time and I bombed it again, even worse than the first time. At that moment, I was just in tears. I hated what I was doing because I wasn’t doing both of them at a high level. I was just barely getting by on both. And I was miserable. My agent was there and we’re like, “We’re done. We are done playing. We’re not going to do this anymore.” 

It was a really hard decision to make because I knew I could make it physically. I have the game to do so, but mentally I was such a headcase and there was so many outside influences that were just ruining it for me. I wasn’t having fun out there anymore. It felt so much like a job. Then I decided just to take a little bit of break from golf to focus on media. And I loved it. I loved doing media. I felt that I was much better at that. And I could be the best at that. In golf, even if I practiced as hard as I possibly could, I would probably never be top-five in the world – but I am number one in the world in golf media. So I’m like, “That’s the direction I should go.” I don’t think people realize how hard of a decision it was, how much effort and time I put into golf. I mean, it was my entire life and then it, just wasn’t anymore. Every day I still feel like I’m a failure, like I quit. I struggle with that every single day. But, you know, I’m lucky that I found something that I really do love with media work. 

As we speak, you’ve got 435,000 Twitter followers and 3.1 million on Instagram. Amazing numbers. Golf is a game of pressure. Before you hit send on a post, do you feel any pressure, knowing that many people are going to see, and potentially scrutinize it?  

That’s a great question. They’re so different. When it comes to media work, you always have this fear of saying the wrong thing or having it be interpreted in a way that you didn’t intend. With cancel culture, you just never know; you could say something that could be a joke and it could be taken the wrong way and your career could be over with one click of a button. And that is terrifying. That is so scary to think; I’ve worked five years of my life and I put so much into this and it could be done with one click. But for me, media work, it’s almost like an outlet. I don’t really care too much what people think about me anymore. 

And that was a very long journey. In the very beginning, I stressed over everything that I posted, down to the caption. I didn’t really know how to handle it. Now, I don’t really care. It’s a really freeing realization to get to that point. I have like my podcast, my YouTube, all my social channels and it’s fun to just do whatever I want to do. But with golf, there was something that was just so tied into my ego and who I was that it destroyed me. There’s just something about golf – I can’t describe what it is – but when I have a bad round or if someone comments on my golf abilities, it’s just like a knife straight into my stomach. 

There’s just something about it – I mean, grown men fall to their knees and cry. Golf just has this ability to make you feel (very small). I haven’t figured it out. I’ve seen so many sports psychologists to try and get me over that hump, but I just could never do it. I was not good under pressure. I couldn’t handle it. There’s just something about golf that makes me feel so, so horrible about myself. With media work, I never got that feeling even when I’m getting hate and people don’t like what I post. I have a confidence about what I’m doing, and I know I’m good at what I do. I can connect with a lot of people. With golf I never had that confidence. I never believed in myself. I think that’s what makes a top professional so specials – it’s all between your ears at that point. They are so mentally strong and so mentally tough; it’s very impressive. 

You just put out a series of tweets that perfectly summed up the game of golf. In sum, you had a great round and said you loved the game. A couple days later, it was the opposite, and you said you hated the game. Don’t you think that’s incredibly relatable? 

I think my vulnerability makes me great in media work, but it held me back in golf. It’s really funny because I am so open and so honest, and I’ve been that way my entire career. And to be at the top level as a professional athlete, you can’t – you almost have to be a robot. You can’t show any weaknesses. You can’t show your competitors that you’re not calm and confident, but I did. Twenty-four-seven, I talk about things. I’m not feeling good about this. I’m insecure about this. I have a lot of anxiety about that. Which is great, because so many people can relate to that – especially with golf. I think people like to hear that because sometimes you just feel so alone out on the golf course. I think it’s nice for people to hear that from someone who has been through it, playing golf for such a long time and at a high level. I try to always talk about my ups, my downs, and to be as open and honest as possible, even though, you know, it can be hard at times when you’re always vulnerable. I think there’s more good than bad by doing so.

I get a lot of really positive feedback, whether it’s about golf or golf as being horrible sometimes, either anxiety or depression, it could be something deep and meaningful or something silly. It’s just always trying to create that connection with my audience. I think it’s why I’ve been successful with media work – I don’t view them as just another follower, they’re like friends to me. We’ve been on this journey for such a long time and my life has been so open; they’ve been a part of it and they feel – we feel –l connected on that level. 

Social media is always a lightning rod for controversy. What do you both love and hate about it? 

Anytime I’m honest about my anxiety or depression or mental health, those are the best posts because you get so many people reaching out and asking for help or just advice, or just connecting on such a deep level. And you don’t see that on social media because social media is so superficial; it’s fake. People only put out the good and it’s not their real life. The ones that I want to take back are the ones that just don’t hit right. When you try to make a joke on Twitter and it’s taken the wrong way. Those are the ones that I probably want to rewrite. But I don’t think I ever want to take anything back, because it all adds to the story. I don’t just post things to post things; there’s always a purpose or a meaning behind it. There aren’t any posts that I’m like, “Why did I say that?” or “Why did I do that?” You can always learn from the bad posts. There’s always some good in it. 

How about when a crusty old golfer implies one of your tweets is racist? 

That one was pretty interesting. Twitter compared to Instagram is the hardest one to deal with because – especially in golf, too – there’s kind of the spread between generations. You can say something, and someone can completely misinterpret it. So, I think I’m the most careful with my tweets. 

In that instance, it was your use of the word “fire” that was misconstrued. 

That was the first time in my career where people were saying that it was a bit of a racist tweet.  I commented on Hideki Matsuyama potentially serving Japanese food at the Masters Champions Dinner – which is a tradition where (the winner) honors the country they’re from by serving food from the country. And I love Japanese food. So, I (tweeted), “It’s going to be ‘fire’ next year.” People took it in a way that was racist. But it was a compliment, a good thing. I was so excited. I love Hideki so much. I’d been complimenting him the whole tournament. In that moment, I was like, “I’m going to be canceled.” It was so, so scary. I had massive anxiety. I called my sister who helps me on my social media and also my team. I asked, “Is this okay?” And they’re like, “Yes, Paige, it’s okay.” I have a very diverse group of friends, so I called them and I’m like, “Is this okay? Are you with this?” They’re like, “Yes. Paige, you need to stop overthinking it.” But that’s what I was talking about, where it can be so scary when you say something and it’s taken in a way that was not intended. 

There are positives to be sure. You’ve used your platform to bring awareness to bullying. You were a victim of bullying when you were a child. Can you talk about that and explain why that cause is so important to you? 

I’ve dealt with bullying my entire life. When I was younger, I had a hair condition; I had very short hair and I was bullied for that. In college I actually had to disable all of my social media accounts because I was being harassed and stalked. It was really scary, really bad. Then it got really bad when I started to gain some traction on social media by gaining more followers. I think being in golf, which is a more conservative sport, if you look at what I wear and what I post, I’m definitely much of the opposite of that. I was receiving death threats, hate messages, people threatening to come and hurt me physically. I needed some kind of an outlet. So, we reached out to a ton of different anti-bullying organizations and we talked to the founder of the Cybersmile Foundation. His daughter went through a similar experience and she almost took her life. He understood it as a parent and wanted to do something really special to help kids and parents. I started to do talks at middle schools and high schools and for the Boys and Girls Club, just to talk about my experience of being online and how I’ve dealt with it. It’s been really positive. 

Were you surprised by the backlash that came with your cover appearance on Golf Digest

Part of me understands. As female professionals, you always struggle with getting covers and equal media coverage as compared to male professionals. So I could see the women on the LPGA Tour being a bit frustrated about it. At that time, Lydia Ko was absolutely dominating on tour and she deserved the cover, more visibility across all media platforms. So, I do understand where they were coming from. But, that particular issue was (about) the future of golf. They were talking a lot about technology within golf. I built a career through technology and social media at that time; it made sense for me to be on the cover if you’re thinking about it that way and not just looking at accomplishments (on the course). If you are looking at accomplishments, I did accomplish a lot through my media work. A lot of people don’t recognize that as being an accomplishment. But to me, it is. To build this audience, to have a career, to be financially stable at a young age – all through having an Instagram following, which is crazy to think about. The pictures were very artistic. I thought they were very tastefully done. It wasn’t just me in a sports bra or a bikini just to show skin. We put a lot of thought into the outfits that I was wearing, the hair and the makeup. It was a treat to be that creative and do something different, especially within golf, which is something I think we need to do.

We need to keep trying to do different things because golf never changes. We’re so scared of losing the tradition because tradition is what makes golf so great. But at the same time, we need to get more people involved in golf. You do need to do things that are different. You don’t lose the tradition, but it’s just being a little bit more creative. Everyone on the Golf Digest team said it was one of the most fun shoots they’ve ever done, because they were able to do something different. It wasn’t “10 ways to get it out of the bunker,” which they’ve been doing for hundreds of years now. I am so proud of what we created. People still ask me about it all the time; it’s one of my favorite covers that I’ve ever done.

Talk about your podcast, “Playing-A-Round with Paige Renee,” which you started last year. What’s that been like? What do you like about hosting a podcast? What’s the feedback been like? 

I originally started the podcast because I was working for this company and I ended up getting fired over a post on my own personal account that they took in a negative way. And this has happened before with other companies I’ve worked with. It feels like I couldn’t be outspoken and I couldn’t do what I want to do. My male counterparts could say and do whatever they want and they weren’t getting fired. And I had no outlet. I had no place that I could really show off my personality. I have so much to show and so much I want to talk about. So, we created this podcast basically to talk about all my experiences. The first couple of episodes were honestly just like a therapy session for me. I just spilled my guts and my heart out and talked about everything I wanted to talk about. It’s kind of morphed into something a little bit different, which I’m also really proud of. I feel like there’s been a good reaction to it as well. It’s very difficult to be a female-led sports podcasts and have it be successful, especially when so many people are doing such an amazing job with golf podcasts at sports podcasts. I’m trying to always think of something different to separate myself, but to keep growing and progressing. It took me almost a year, honestly, to get a little bit more comfortable with it, because it’s so drastically different from all the other social content that I normally do. 

Your newest endeavor is being a spokesperson for PointsBet. Now that sports betting is legal in Colorado, seeing your face on buses and billboards is very common around here. What’s been the best part of being in the sports betting industry thus far? 

I’ve always wanted to do something with a sports betting company and I’ve worked with some other ones in the past. I feel it’s the wave of the future. I feel like sports betting is going to be so integrated into our sports content. I wanted to get into it but didn’t really find the right company that was the perfect fit. Then PointsBet reached out. I was very excited, and the process moved fairly quickly, because I loved everyone within the company. I felt like we kind of share the same goals; we’re scrappy, hard workers. It’s also just doing something different. I think I’ve done golf for so long that it’s nice to get into other sports, which is a real passion for me. I love watching football and hockey and baseball. 

Who are your teams? 

Both parents are from Pittsburgh, so I have to root hardcore for every Pittsburgh team – unfortunately, even the Pirates. But we have the Penguins and the Steelers. I mean, I came out basically leading black and gold. My parents would have disowned me if I wasn’t a Steelers fan. I also liked the Avs and the Broncos because I was born in Colorado; I would consider those my “second” teams. My alliances are strong with Pittsburgh and Denver. 

Like Colorado, more and more states are legalizing sports betting. In your opinion, what can that do for the sport of golf specifically? 

It’s a way to grow the game. When there are people who love sports betting – but maybe aren’t the biggest golf fans – they’re going to be invested into watching golf because they want to see how all their best are doing. And I think that’s great. With golf, it’s something that’s boring at first, and it does take a lot of time to understand the rules and what’s going on. But once you get invested, it’s so much fun to watch. The “back nine on Sunday” is some of the most exciting sports entertainment out there. Getting more people invested and trying it for the first time, they’re going to realize how great golf is. Hopefully they will get the golf bug and one go out and try it themselves.

Any tips for bettors looking to have some action on the next golf tournament? 

For sure. Download the PointsBet app; that’s the first thing you need to do. Then you can check out the Instagram YouTube and Twitter accounts, because we put out golf content all the time. We have a series called “The Range” where we recap the last week and then we give our picks and the reason behind them for the upcoming week. With golf, I tried to follow what everyone else was doing by looking at the stats and doing all my research. And I realized that I make my picks better by going off a gut feeling and just knowing the golf courses. I feel like having all the knowledge of even playing with these guys in the pro-ams and playing the golf courses and being familiar – I’ve been pretty solid with my picks, which is exciting thing. I’m happy about that. 

You’re a Colorado girl, growing up in Monument and Wheat Ridge. Naturally, we’ve got to ask: What are your favorite courses in Colorado?

My all-time favorite golf course is Cherry Hills Country Club. I fell in love with that golf course when I played in the Tournament of Champions there when I was 13. It’s just such an amazing golf course. I also love the Broadmoor; very pretty. But for more accessible golf courses, Fox Hollow is one of the best public golf courses I have ever played. They have multiple 9s, they have a great practice facility and they’re very friendly to women – which is still a problem in golf. I’ve always felt very comfortable there. And for a very fun, relaxed form of golf, go to Foothills. It’s great for anyone, especially the family if you have kids just starting out. They have, an 18-hole golf course, the executive-9 and a par-3 course. You can go there at night because they have a driving range with lights. That is normally where I shoot my content.

A must ask for every golf interview: Who’s in your dream foursome? 

I answer the same every single time: Tiger Woods, Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. I met Tiger Woods. I played golf with Justin Timberlake. And I’ve never met or played golf with Jimmy Fallon. So, I have one more on my list. And then, if we can combine them together, it would be my dream foursome.