Golf's Greatest Girl Gang

How Five Friends are Changing the Game While Supporting Each Other

Women in golf have an unspoken rule: stick together. No matter your age, race, background, or handicap, when you decide to get involved in this game, you’re automatically welcomed into a one-of-a-kind sorority with a community of your counterparts ready to support and encourage you however they can. And every woman in this industry knows that it’s the standard to show up for her fellow female and understands the duty she has to make room for her at the table, even if she has to give up her seat and pull up a chair.

Despite becoming progressively more inclusive in recent years, the golf industry remains markedly male-dominated and still requires us women to work together to make sure our voices can be heard above the cacophony, especially if we want to impart change or make a difference. It calls for strength, diligence, resilience, integrity and a whole other host of adjectives that are used to measure a person’s success.

But anyone who knows anything about being successful knows you need good people around you to bolster you while you chase and achieve your dreams. And few understand that fact better than the five game-changing women that comprise what this author has dubbed “golf’s greatest girl gang”.

You’ve seen them around, whether they’re interviewing the game’s best or teeing it up in majors or challenging golf’s old-school norms using social media and fashion. They’ve all carved out their own space in the golf world, influencing the industry as some of the most trusted, recognizable voices in the sport. And in their own way, these women are all making history, linked arm in arm as they blaze new trails and forge new paths in a game that’s desperately needed refreshing over the last few decades.

Their origin story starts with golf but, if you ask Michelle Wie West, Kira K. Dixon, Megan LaMothe, or Amanda Balionis, itโ€™s not just golf thatโ€™s the great connector. Itโ€™s also Hally Leadbetter.

CBS Sports’ Amanda Balionis met Hally when she was working the 2015 Open Championship hosting a live stream for the R&A. It was raining as usual and Leadbetter was in charge of holding Balionis’ umbrella that day, but the two barely spoke. They later crossed paths and after clearing up a funny misunderstanding about whether or not the then college-aged Hally was married, the two became pals, staying in touch as they both moved through the golf world. “Our friendship started off on a hilarious note,” said Balionis. “Now knowing Hally and myself, that's really the only way it could have started. She's become such a close friend of mine. Without golf, I don't think we ever would have crossed paths.”

“Hally is the conduit to all of these people,” explained LaMothe, founder and CEO of Foray Golf, with whom Leadbetter previously worked. “She's an excellent judge of character. She's the one who originally connected all of us. I mean, Hally is probably the most connected person within golf.”

Wie West and Leadbetter became friends when the major champion had Leadbetter’s father David as her swing coach and the two spent a lot of time together both on and off the golf course. “I think Hally has been the best connector. I think we've all met each other through Hally,” said Wie West of her childhood friend.

“I started working in golf doing some events here and there. And Hally messaged me on Instagram,” recalled Dixon, Golf Channel reporter and Miss America 2015. “And she said, ‘Hi, I'm Hally. Nice to meet you. There's this new golf clothing company coming out. Megan the CEO (of Foray Golf) is really cool.’ Hally and I didn't know each other. She just cold reached out to me. That's such a hard thing to do. She's such a connector.”

But for the social media superstar, helping people to create new friendships is just part of the fun of being a woman in golf. And with a Rolodex the size of a small library, it’s something Hally has proven to be quite good at. “I've always enjoyed connecting people. Golf is a male-dominated industry and (I wanted to build) out a group of women that worked in the industry, that understood each other’s situations and could provide a support network for each other. Also, I just love connecting people. There's a great satisfaction that comes from helping to build a friendship because we all love making friends so if you can help other people make friends, that's great.”

After Hally made the initial connections, LaMothe organized a girls’ trip to the Bahamas in 2018, and, although it wasn’t just the five of them attending, that vacation is where their relationships were solidified. Since then, Michelle, Hally, Amanda, Megan and Kira have been supporting each other through life’s ups and downs via group texts and meet-ups when their busy schedules allow, trading war stories and celebrating successes, showing up for the important moments and helping each other overcome the struggles they face day in and day out as women in golf.

All five women are constantly pushing the envelope in their respective fields and are trying to change the game by making it more appealing, more exciting, and more female. LaMothe has created an entirely new type of women’s golf clothing that’s both fashion-forward with its bold prints and street-style vibes and focused on consistent fit and comfort. Leadbetter produces content for Golf Digest, GolfTV and the USGA that helps golf seem cool and that appeals to a younger audience.

Dixon has fast become one of Golf Channel’s go-to reporters and when she isn’t interviewing top PGA Tour players, Kira goes out and tees it up herself, playing annually in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Balionis covers golf and football for CBS Sports but also leads her Puppies & Golf Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping rescue dogs find their forever homes. And Wie West is advocating for diversity and inclusion in golf through initiatives like the #HoodieForGolf campaign while still working to play competitively at the highest level.

Despite being ridiculously successful and championing causes they care about, these women still often face nonstop criticism and all deal with the social media trolls that seem to specialize in tearing females down. Add in a challenging lifestyle that includes incessant travel and jam-packed work schedules and it can be a pressure-packed way to live, no matter how good the photos look on Instagram and Facebook.

“There is definitely a mental benefit to being able to vent to someone who understands your situation,” said Leadbetter. “You don't want to complain and gripe and moan because we're all very lucky to be in the situation that we're in. Amanda is incredibly good at clapping back at trolls on Twitter and it’s really cool to see her stand up for herself. Being able to see that and then also to know this person said that to me and she's like, ‘I've been there. I get it and I know that it hurts.’ You feel validated knowing that other people have been there. It's nothing new and it's probably going to be this way for the foreseeable future but you're not alone in that it bothers you and it's something that you struggle with.”

“As much as we know we should have thick skin and not read the comments and not feel self-conscious or down when we make a mistake, you can't always be tough, right? You are going to have those moments where you have to lean on people,” Balionis said. “We are very privileged in this golf space that we get to be in. We're going to the most beautiful places in the world, we're talking to the best players in the world in their highest moments. There are so many amazing things that are happening.

“But I'm traveling almost 40 weeks a year between golf and football and other obligations that I have, and there aren't a whole lot of people who want to hear you complain about this wonderful life or that understand. They're a great outlet when you do get frustrated, or you're having a terrible travel day, or somebody says the exact right thing to get under your skin at the exact right moment. They're a safe space and know exactly how it feels and they're going to be there to support you.”

For someone like LaMothe who was an only child, spent her formative professional years grinding in the uber-competitive fashion industry, and is now a single mother to daughter Rae while also being a CEO of a flourishing golf clothing company, these women mean the world. It’s one thing to have them wear Foray’s gear on TV or post about a new launch on their Instagram story. It’s another to have your friends show up for you in the dark times when all you need is a reassuring shoulder to lean on.

โ€œThe thing that's meant the most to me is that they're there to listen and not judge,โ€ said Megan. โ€œReal friendship is taking the time to listen and trying to understand and see someone and acknowledge their happiness, their suffering, their joy, whatever it happens to be. We really do that for each other and having them there through that process is helpful.

“It's nice to be around a group of women that you can just put your hair down and relax and not feel like you have to be CEO with a capital C or professional golfer with a capital P. You can just be you, which is nice. Everybody actually cares about the other people. Whatever doors we can open for the other person, whatever advice we can give, everybody does it because we want to see everybody succeed.”

But it’s the way these women inspire and root for each other that’s most admirable. Everything they do for one another is deeply rooted in love and friendship with respect and adoration driving it all, a nice reminder that women empowering women is actually a real thing, not just a trite hashtag to be left at the end of a Twitter post. And it’s that dedication to excellence and relentless loyalty to one another that truly make this girl gang great.

“Nobody does anything successful without people around them. It's just doesn't happen. You can't do anything by yourself,” said Dixon. “So it's a privilege to be able to lean on others that understand and are willing to give you time and advice and resources and whatever else that you might need.”

“What's really cool about us is we all come from incredibly different backgrounds, but we're all successful in our in our own rights,” explained Leadbetter. “Everybody's so unique and they're all so comfortable in their own skin and focus on what they can do every single day to be the best versions of themselves they can be so that inspires me to be the best version of me that I can be as opposed to just trying to be like other people.”

“There's power in numbers and there's power in intent. I think we have the same approach to it all of us, which is we want to work the change differently and to me, it’s just by being the best,” said LaMothe. “Everybody's a self-made woman. Every day people wake up and work hard towards something and that's really how these gals inspire me.”

“For every single one of these women, it would have been so easy for them to feel defeated and just walk away from this space because the space hasn't always felt overwhelmingly welcoming,” explained Balionis. “But every single one of these women has responded to that with, ‘Okay, I'll go prove you wrong.’ The thing that keeps me wanting to stay close with them is I'm inspired by them. I know they're never gonna let me just sit back and stop working hard.”

“I do have the best girl gang out there. I look up to them so much and they all inspire me in very different ways,” Wie West said. “Everyone has such a different skillset in our group, so it's been fun to get advice from people by just blasting out a question in the group chat and it's amazing what kind of answers you get back. We want to see each other succeed and I think that's what makes us really good friends.”