Coming Out on the PGA Tour

Six-time PGA Tour winner Brandt Snedeker thinks the emergence of an openly gay professional golfer is imminent.  (Getty Images)

Six-time PGA Tour winner Brandt Snedeker thinks the emergence of an openly gay professional golfer is imminent. (Getty Images)

The NFL draft has come and gone, and with it the Rams’ history-making selection of Michael Sam to become, eventually, the NFL’s first openly gay player. Both Sam and the NBA’s Jason Collins have received support and acceptance from most, so we may soon get to the point where LGBT athletes will see little reason to conceal their sexual identities. As the draft approached last week, I found myself wondering if men’s golf ultimately might prove to be the most challenging pro sport for an athlete to come out. Several LPGA players have been out for years, yet none of their male counterparts on the PGA Tour has ever come out as openly gay.

Six-time Tour winner Brandt Snedeker told The Golf Channel’s David Feherty in March that there probably are a couple of gay players on tour, and he’d welcome them to come out, but other players have suggested that the response could be mixed. Masters champion Bubba Watson told The Christian Post last year that he believes “being gay is a sin,” but he then added that he respects gay people. In 2012, U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson tweeted his reasons for “loving Chick-fil-A,” and Stewart Cink followed suit — golfers really, really love Chick-fil-A — in the wake of COO Dan Cathy’s public statements opposing gay marriage. Both players have said they’d be cordial if a gay player were on the PGA Tour, but even so, their admitted prejudice creates a certain type of hostile work environment.

In theory, it could be easier to come out in an individual sport than in a team sport, without having to contend with a pack-like locker-room culture. If a player has to endure a quiet round or two because another player has a problem, so be it. Without a team to travel with or an assigned road roommate, a golfer would seem less likely to face asinine comments about “being a distraction” or “fear of showering” (looking squarely in your direction, Jonathan Vilma). On the other hand, rival golfers are also free of some of the regulatory norms that restrict teammates in other sports, such as mandatory counseling and fines for inappropriate comments and discriminatory behaviors. A PGA player isn’t under contract to a franchise that coaches him on social consciousness in media appearances, tweets and the like.

Like the players themselves, the PGA Tour’s fan base skews conservative politically and religiously, and many of the anti-gay sentiments heard on the circuit have been accompanied by citations of the Bible. I’ve heard fans sling disgusting homophobic slurs aimed at straight players who leave putts short, so one can assume that an openly gay player will be subject to a lion’s share from some of the more vocal galleries. With fewer players taking up golf year after year, the sport’s community — the tours, the governing bodies, golf-specific media — has started to emphasize growing the game and making it more accessible, yet the sport still has exclusivity problems at every level. Several tour players are members of all-male private clubs, plenty of which also happen to not have African-American or openly gay members, and golf remains cost-prohibitive for a significant segment of the population. Dress codes, rigid cell phone regulations, initiations — in many ways, the sport broadcasts the message, “If you’re not like us, we don’t want you.”

As more elite athletes are coming out, I hope a few PGA Tour golfers join them, because I think the sport needs it. Jason Collins inspired UMass’ Derrick Gordon to become the first openly gay NCAA Division I basketball player. The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner is paving the way for other young women in her new, beautifully written memoir In My Skin: My Life On and Off The Basketball Court. In order to grow, golf needs to evolve and change and appeal to everyone. I hope that Snedeker is right, that the emergence of an openly gay PGA Tour golfer is imminent. And I’m hoping he’s correct in assuming that player will be welcomed.

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Sarah Turcotte is a writer and producer living in New York. Her work has appeared in ESPN The Magazineespn.comGolf DigestFast CompanyBon Appetit and Details. She played collegiate golf at The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her greatest golf achievement was not being in last place after the first day of her only LPGA Tour start. She tweets occasionally at @turcottesarah.

10 thoughts on “Coming Out on the PGA Tour

  1. Interesting that an openly gay golfer would essentially ‘out’ the hypocrisy and narrow mindedness of the golf industry’s pandering to the Christian right.

  2. Of course, a gay golfer should and would be welcomed on the PGA Tour. But, why does the media have to keep leading the charge on this type of issue? Thats not happening in the states where judges have ruled to overturn bans on gay marriage. Let the individual(s) involved decide this kind of personal issue. And, its sad that one judge can overrule the will of the majority on a state issue, as SCOTUS said that is, too.

    • It’s not sad that a judge can overrule the majority when that majority has voted to revoke the rights of a minority. The federal courts overruled segregation and bans on interracial marriages for the same reason. They were seen as states’ rights issues and the majority in many states (mainly in the South) supported them. But in this country the majority cannot and will not revoke the rights of a minority.

      • There should be no right to marriage for same sex couples because marriage is defined as between a man and a woman and not only in the Bible but in English common law, which derived from that natural law as given in the Ten Commandments. So, this is not a civil-rights issue but an attempt to change the meaning of a cultural institution to further an agenda and it actually thereby lessens its status by the fact that theres no limit to what other combinations of unlimited multiple persons(or including even animals possibly) could decide to term themselves married in the future. Civil rights, which are already mostly granted by the states and federal government to gay couples , would be financial beneficiary rights, health insurance coverage, the right to non-discrimination on the job or in housing and other issues like that…completely different from redefining the basis of the family that has proven to work best since life was created. To carry this type of societal shift to its logical extreme it would be like saying that murder no longer just meant you killed someone in cold-blood (not in self-defense), but that even killing an enemy in war, to be banned in some future supposed uptopia, was now part of the meaning of murder…now that truly sounds like a radical liberals paradise and a libertarians nightmare!

    • I don’t play golf, but I do enjoy watching the tournaments on television and I do believe that a lot of the clothing worn by by the male players are certainly pastel gay in color choices and styles. So by that thought who is gayer looking than that? Hmmm?

  3. thank you bubba watson for having the guts to speak the biblical truth and say that it is a sin to be gay. as for the people that are for all this gay crap- i am voting to give you, all the liberals and the queers the state of oregon so all of you can go reside there and leave us out of your life and your business. to the liberal media- quit trying to push homosexuality on us heterosexuals and telling everyone it is ok to be a fag. what normal male would welcome and want to play sports with any gay person? one reason most people speak for it is because they can get in trouble with their boss or organization for not agreeing that it is ok. i do not have to answer to anyone so all fags- move to oregon!!

    • Did you selectively leave out that Bubba Watson also said that he respects gay people? You don’t have to agree with someone’s choices to treat them with respect and dignity.