The Social Media Science Behind Paulina Gretzky's Golf Digest Cover

                                            Golf Digest
The LPGA is transcending golf this weekend, thanks not to a killer leaderboard at their season's first major, but to a photogenic celebutante with incredible abs and a sizzling/slash/scandalous social media presence.  

Paulina Gretzky isn't a professional golfer or even a particularly avid fan of the sport. She's a rather good singer though, and she's the daughter of a great Great hockey player. Additionally, as fiancee to a top PGA Tour player, Dustin Johnson, Paulina is a genuine golf WAG and, according to Sam Weinman, web editor at, "a certified celebrity within the golf world". 

It's a nuanced balance of the above elements that led the athletic Instagram queen onto the May cover of Golf Digest... and provoked an outcry that has golf... and the LPGA ...being discussed in places that rarely notice women's golf.  The controversial cover model, plus some of the ensuing reporting and reaction from golf pundits, officials and industry insiders... most notably LPGA Tour commissioner, Mike Whan and several top LPGA tour players... has been discussed in AdWeek, The New York Times, Mashable and Business Insider as well as countless other non-golf outlets. TV morning shows and radio programs picked up the story as well... and on social media, where uncensored opinionating and viral sharing can amplify a timely topic exponentially, an animated debate is ongoing and has reached well beyond the golf niche. Which brings us to a cynical, well-worn cliche that today is more pertinent than ever: there's no such thing as bad publicity.    

It's very rare that Golf Digest features a woman on its cover, and for them to choose an aspiring entertainer as opposed to a professional female golfer has created a substantial backlash.  However, you don't get the impression it's a particularly unwelcome backlash, nor that it came as a surprise to the editors. In fact, some would surmise that... coming just weeks after the launch of a Golf Digest Video Channel and days after a major homepage redesign... the controversial move was, in fact, highly calculated. --MORE-->

With DJ & a random pachyderm -- Paulina Gretzky on Instagram
Any publication that wishes to thrive (or even survive) in today's fragmented media/entertainment landscape is seeking to expand its audience. Golf Digest has been quite open about their desire to reach younger, casual golfers and golf fans. They're consciously seeking to increase their readership beyond that core audience of avid golfers and golf purists who still get most of their golf news and information from traditional media. Because that market just isn't large enough to sustain the "fully integrated media and marketing company operating across a multitude of platforms" that GD has evolved into.  

To stand a chance of reaching... and retaining... their youthful target audience, the editors surely realize that social media strength is vital. They've also seen that... in many cases... controversial content equals social media success. In selecting Paulina Gretzky for their cover they got a very attractive woman who in addition to her peripheral golf connection, is an established internet uber-celebrity. Clearly, Paulina's digital fame was at least as important as her sex-appeal in sealing the now famous cover deal... and the argument that one of many extremely beautiful, incredibly talented LPGA Tour players would have been a better choice doesn't take that attribute into consideration. 

To avid LPGA fans, myself included, who have long lamented the tour's sparse lack of media coverage, this decision by golf's most widely read publication is obviously disappointing. However the brand has not gone to great lengths to feature women in the past so it shouldn't be surprising... given the current climate of content overload and shortened attention spans... that Golf Digest chose Paulina.

Meanwhile, heading into the final round of this season's first major, two of the LPGA's most marketable stars Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson, share the lead. Let's hope the Paulina Gretzky/Golf Digest cover kerfuffle inspires social media golf fans to check out the action at the Kraft Nabisco Classic today. They may even spot a future cover girl.