Do you remember the heroes you looked up to as a kid? Perhaps it was someone who grew up in your hometown and went on to accomplish the things you dreamed of, or someone you only knew from TV whose story gave you hope when you learned they overcame the same challenges you struggled with as a kid. No matter what their claim to fame, most role models have a few unique qualities in common with one another - talent of course, a propensity for hard work, integrity, and the ability to give others a look at a dream personified.
Parents know how valuable role models can be for their children, and for those raising daughters — particularly girls most at-risk of falling victim to the negative influences of the outside world — the pressure to find positive influence feels higher. Beyond the impact social media is having on girls’ self-image, those also contending with fewer socioeconomic opportunities or instability at home are in the most need for inspiration.
Fortunately, many parents are finding a pipeline of reliable role models in female professional athletes. And it’s not just talent that makes those athletes an ideal choice. The added bonus that comes with their influence is that female athletes inspire girls to take up and stick with playing a sport, an activity that research shows can improve girls’ mental well-being, physical health and academic achievement. Of the sports identified by the Women’s Sports Foundation as the most effective in promoting healthy development, golf sits near the top of the list, giving girls a lifelong game from which they can gain great benefit.
Whether girls choose golf or not, they’ll have no issues finding a professional golfer whose story they can connect with. The LPGA is full of bright personalities, beat-the-odds successes, and women whose roads are diverse. One example is LPGA player and major winner Mo Martin. Standing at just 5’1”, Martin’s stature isn’t what you’d expect of a professional athlete, and her path to climbing the ranks wasn’t traditional for a pro golfer either. Growing up, Mo’s family of five lived in a 900-square-foot house next to a Jack in the Box fast-food restaurant. She has fond memories of splitting a spicy grilled chicken sandwich five ways, an exercise in making the best of things she learned growing up. Her father saw golf as a potential outlet for his kids, and what they lacked in financial means he made up for in ingenuity. Mo’s dad found ways to quite literally engineer opportunities for his children to participate in the sport, sawing down any golf clubs he could find to build a “junior set" and even creating Mo’s first golf bag by hand, wrapping a cardboard tube with electrical tape and finishing it with a rope as a strap. Martin converted her humble beginnings into a spot on the women’s golf team for the University of California Los Angeles, and eventually, a membership on the LPGA Tour and an AIG Women’s Open win. “I learned that we grow, not in spite of the challenges but because of them. Things weren’t always perfect – and that’s just fine,” she says, “I fell in love with golf through all the things it gave me, and just as importantly, through those things it didn’t.”
Twenty-six-year-old Atlanta native Mariah Stackhouse is another example and one of only eight African America women to have earned membership on the LPGA so far. Her resume is impressive of course, having played for Stanford University’s women’s golf team before joining the professional ranks and attracting blue-chip sponsors like KPMG and Barbasol. In addition to her standout golf skills, Mariah proudly offers a juxtaposition to the norm. Young girls can watch Mariah compete inside the ropes of the LPGA sporting a perfectly coifed Afro or cornrows on the golf course, a space known for its love of tradition and vastly white male consumer base. She doesn’t bother trying to blend in, but rather relishes in standing out and embracing the responsibility that comes with being the only black woman actively playing on the LPGA Tour.
“The popular saying ‘you cannot be what you do not see’ really resonates with me,” says Stackhouse. “Golf has been an integral part of my life story and a gateway of opportunity. Part of my mission is to reach more people who may not have thought of golf as their sport too.”
And then there’s Haley Moore. As a rookie, she’s entering her first season in a year filled with hurdles for professional athletes, but she’s no stranger to pushing through adversity. Growing up, Haley endured the pain of intense and constant bullying from her peers. She credits the golf course to helping her find a sense of peace and control before falling in love with the game. “No matter what kind of day I had, I knew I could come home and say, “Hey, mom, can you take me to the golf course to practice?” There I could excel. At the range, people would look at me and say things like “Wow, great swing.” The golf course gave Haley an outlet and served as a place where she could set goals, make friends, and daydream about a future career on the LPGA. In spite of the crisis in confidence she faced growing up, Haley achieved one of her biggest dreams, and as a new face on the LPGA is anxious to share the story of her struggles and triumphs with young fans. “I’m sure bullied girls and boys will tell me their stories. An awesome responsibility lies in that moment. But I know what to say. People can be cruel. You have to block that out and keep moving ahead no matter how much it hurts. Keep your goals in front of you and continue to love and be loyal to those who care about you.”
These women have all of the ingredients of a childhood hero and they’re just a few of the many LPGA’s players who are carving paths worth following. For girls from all walks of life, these athletes’ stories are affirmation that no matter where a girls’ journey begins, how big her aspirations might be or what challenges she may face along the way, she is worthy and capable of achieving her dreams - and inspiring others along the way.