Popular golfer Paige Spiranac has broken down at a pre-tournament press conference in Dubai after being asked about cyber bullies.
The 23-year-old shot to fame after a light-hearted video of her supposed pre-shot routine went viral in September and has now had more than a million views on Instagram.
She is also popular on Facebook, while her official website says she is a “women’s golf phenom” and quotes a website describing her as a “sexy, athletic, smart, nerd”.
But not everyone loves Spiranac, with the American, who registered her first win as a professional in June, painfully recounting her experience at the 2015 Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, where she finished last.
After the tournament she was subjected to a barrage of online abuse and broke down in tears this week as she revealed she suffered depression in the aftermath.
“It was really bad, right after [the tournament] I took about three weeks off, just not looking at anything,” said Spiranac.
“But when you just see the comments that people say, they’re extremely cruel.
“They attack not only me but my parents, my family, my friends, and you know, they say I’m a disgrace to golf … it’s really hard.
“I still get those comments and I still deal with it every day.
Watch the press conference below:
“I didn’t want to cry. I think it’s really important. I think people need to see how much it actually does affect me and the things they call me,” she added.
“I feel like I was raised right by my parents, and for them to attack my parents and attack what I’m doing, it’s really difficult.
“I struggled with a lot of depression after it … to have these people say that I’m not a good golfer, I’m not a good person, you know I’m promiscuous or make these judgments about me that aren’t true. It’s really hard, just because I like to wear Spandex on a golf course.”
Noting the high rate of teenage suicides, Spiranac said much of the cause could be attributed to cyber bullying.
“If I can share my story and I’m OK with being emotional about it, and I’m OK with kind of expressing what happened to me … people don’t realise how hard it really was on me,” she said.
“People, you know, threatening my life and saying the world is better off without me … it doesn’t matter how I play this week, it really doesn’t.
“But the fact that I’m here and I’m sharing my story, hopefully can save someone’s life.
“I think that’s so much more important than if I make the cut or miss the cut.”
Spiranac’s frank and emotional outpouring was met with applause from the journalists at the Dubai media conference.
Pettersen comments ‘garbage’
When asked to weigh in on Spiranac’s issue, Norwegian golfer Suzann Pettersen, also competing in Dubai, said: “There’s obviously pros and cons with everything.
“I have experienced both. Solheim Cup last year was very challenging to say the least, but at the end of the day, you grow from it, you learn.”
Those views were blasted as “garbage” by Professor Marilyn Campbell, an expert on cyber bullying from the Queensland University of Technology.
“To say ‘it’s terrible, but it helps you grow’ – that’s garbage,” Prof Campbell told The New Daily.
“Study after study shows that being cyber bullied or trolled increases someone’s anxiety, depression and potential to self-harm.
“It makes people angry and it’s unnecessary. Nobody needs to be hurt online.”
Prof Campbell said social media gave online trolls a chance to bully athletes and that unfortunately it was almost guaranteed to happen.
“It [social media] gives them [trolls] mechanisms to be nasty, instead of 10 years ago when fan mail might have been ripped up,” she said.
“And unfortunately, trolling is going to happen.
“It’s not going to be every single person on social media, but there is a high chance of it happening.”