Fans of women’s golf will recognize a familiar face in an unexpected place when they open this week’s annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
LPGA Futures Tour member Blair O’Neal is in the issue, posing in a swimsuit, in a full-page ad for Cobra Golf. O’Neal, who endorses Cobra Golf and Puma, is posed on a beach in the ad with the words across her torso, saying, “We could talk about our new Elliptical Face design, but we don’t think you’re really listening right now.”
|Photo by Gary Wang|
True, O’Neal is not in this week’s issue to espouse the virtues of her golf clubs, but she also is not just another pretty face. The 5-foot-10 touring pro was a two-time NCAA Long-Drive Champion while playing college golf for Arizona State University. She has competed on the Futures Tour and throughout Asia, won three times on the Phoenix-based Cactus Tour, advanced to the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament last December, and was runner-up on the Golf Channel’s 2009 “Big Break: Prince Edward Island” show.
But O’Neal, 29, truly got her big break when she won the Golf Channel’s “Big Break Dominican Republic” show last fall in a head-to-head finale against a male player. After proving her mettle against the guys and earning an exemption into the LPGA’s Kia Classic next month, O’Neal’s on-course and off-course celebrity took off. Here’s what she had to say to LPGA senior writer Lisa D. Mickey about this week’s swimsuit splash in Sports Illustrated:
LPGA: How does it feel to be featured in a full-page ad in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue?
O’NEAL: It’s a pretty big deal! I went to Barnes & Noble [Tuesday morning] to get a copy. I’ve been featured in SI’s “Top 50 Hottest Athletes of All Time,” but this is one of those bucket-list things.
LPGA: Were you surprised that Cobra wanted you to wear a swimsuit and not swing a golf club for the ad?
O’NEAL: Well, it is a swimsuit issue. Laugter It makes sense because it catches your eye. I think it’s a pretty clever ad.
LPGA: When did you do the photo shoot?
O’NEAL: It is actually a portfolio picture from a modeling photo shoot that I had taken last summer on a California beach. I had no idea it would go in this magazine at the time. The ad people at Cobra asked if I had a swimsuit shot and it worked out perfectly.
LPGA: What kind of response have you had so far?
O’NEAL: I’ve received a lot of email, Facebook and Twitter messages and really good feedback. I didn’t tell too many people because I wanted to make sure it was really going to happen. The ultimate would be if SI wanted me to do something with them in the future. You never know where things lead, but already, I’m off to a good start.
LPGA: Did all of this come about after you won the “Big Break” last year?
O’NEAL: I think my career certainly changed a lot after the “Big Break” shows. When I was the runner-up in the first show and they asked me to come back, I felt like the second chance was huge. To win that second show was such an amazing feeling. My “Big Break” experiences led me to co-host the “Donald J. Trump’s Fabulous World of Golf” last year, and I appeared on another Golf Channel show last year called “InfuZe My Game,” which was a series of shows that’s kind of like a golf makeover. I think all of these things jump-started my career.
LPGA: When did you start modeling?
O’NEAL: I started modeling as soon as I graduated from college in 2003. My first job was modeling for the Golf Digest World Calendar sold in Japan. I did that for two years and it was a way for me to pay for my golf expenses. I was still playing professional golf on the Futures Tour, but I broke my foot in 2006, and then I took some modeling jobs and ended up taking off three years from tournament golf.
LPGA: What kind of modeling were you doing?
O’NEAL: I was modeling for a ton of companies, doing athletic apparel, swimsuits and fashion. Golf companies liked me because I know how to play. I signed with Ford Models and have worked with companies like Nike, Izod, Under Armour, Tehama, Tommy Bahama, Road Runner Sports, Dillard’s and Reebok.
LPGA: So, how did you fit golf into your modeling schedule?
O’NEAL: Laugter As soon as I started playing golf at age 11, my dream has always been to play on the LPGA. I love competing. Last year, my main focus was on golf and I kind of put modeling on the back burner. When I signed with Puma and Cobra, it was because I like their clubs and clothing line and I wanted to compete using their products. Plus, they think outside the box and found a way to use two things I can do. I enjoy modeling, but golf is what I’m passionate about.
LPGA: You won your exemption into the LPGA’s Kia Classic by winning the “Big Break Domincan Republic.” Will that be your first LPGA tournament?
O’NEAL: Yes, unless I get into the LPGA’s tournament [RR Donnelley LPGA Founder’s Cup] in Phoenix. I feel like I keep inching closer and closer to my goal of playing on the LPGA Tour. Things are finally coming together and it’s all happening so fast.
LPGA: Are you more of a model who plays golf or a golfer who models?
O’NEAL: A golfer who models. I’m a golfer who has other qualities and interests off the course. Hopefully, through the modeling, I can bring new people to the different women’s golf tours I play. And maybe people who open up Sports Illustrated and see the ad will want to come check out the LPGA Tour and LPGA Futures Tour.
Topics: Style Watch