You don’t need to be on a major pro tour these days to be a golf star. Thanks to social media, there’s a large contingent of recognizable faces who play the game. And from time to time, we’ll talk to one of these popular people to learn more about their world. This week we chatted with Tisha Alyn Abrea, a pro golfer who loves to post videos of her dancing to hip-hop music on the course. Tisha is also one of the founding members and the social media director of @WomenWithDrive. Here’s our chat:
I’m always fascinated to hear about how social-media stars first gained their followers. How’d you get started?
My first professional event was in October 2015, and funny enough, I was paired with Paige Spiranac. I was so nervous playing with her, and I was like, 'Why am I nervous now playing with her? I've known her since junior golf.' But her following was so intimidating to me. And that was a time when having a huge social-media following in the golf world was very new. But she was actually super shy herself. I was asking her a bunch of questions and stuff because we ended up shooting the same scores and we got paired together for three straight rounds. She was the one who told me like, 'You should start to grow your social following. You're pretty and you're Filipino -- how many Filipino golfers do you know?' So she was the first person to put it in my ear to get started.
Getting started couldn't have been easy, though.
So I just started posting more often. To make a long story short, there was an Instagram account called @GolfBabes. It was really big like a year and a half ago, and I started becoming one of the girls who they’d feature more often. I got more involved with them, to the point where they ended up changing their name to @WomenWithDrive. We have 155,000 followers, and when it changed, I was one of the eight girls who was involved and we changed the name. I became one of the leaders in it, so that helped grow my following. On top of being featured, which is how a lot of girls in the business got their following, is that I really like to dance a lot on the golf course. Oddly enough, that’s what most people know me for, because I love to dance in my practice rounds, in my free time and I like to go out on the course and dance and have a good time. Golf isn’t really one of those places where dancing is common, it’s kind of a polar opposite actually, especially hip-hop dancing, as I used to be a hip-hop dancer when I was younger. And so I did a few videos combining popular dance crazes and golf on my Instagram and that just blew up my following every time I posted one. It was funny because I thought people would almost have negative feedback, but people started giving me immediate positive feedback. I guess it’s who I am.
Hip-hop dancing is certainly a unique niché within golf. What kind of hip-hop music are you currently dancing to on the course?
Anything Beyonce, and Bruno Mars are my two favorites. You can ask any of my friends -- I’m really close to Nikki B and Kenzie O’Connell and all of them -- and everyone knows: I’m all about Beyonce and Bruno Mars.
For those who don't know much about Women With Drive, give people an idea of what it is, and what it has become.
Our goal is to get more women involved in golf. We all know those participation numbers can improve. We want women to be going on golf trips, we want women to have fun and mingle on the golf course -- all of that. That's what WWD is all about. Off the course, we host events so like-minded women can connect and mingle, and what we do on Instagram is try to feature girls showcasing their golf skills. It doesn't matter what your handicap is -- we'll feature LPGA Tour players or someone who just started playing golf. We just want to let girls know that you don't have to be really good or on a certain level to be featured on our account. And what's cool is hearing about girls connecting with each other on their own through this community we've created.
It has always been a challenge for golf to expand its reach with young women. What can we learn from WWD's success?
One of the key things is keeping the game fun. And that's not saying golf isn't fun, because golfers all know that it is. But it's showing other girls that haven't been as exposed to golf that we have so much fun. It's connecting girls with other friends, we just mess around and have a good time on the course. I think when other girls see that, it encourages them to find a group that's similar to them and get on the course and enjoy themselves together.
I'm sure you hear the negativity from more traditional, conservative golfers. What's the key to striking a balance?
And I think the biggest thing that separates us from other brands is that we do it in a tasteful way. We never want to send a message that girls need to sexualize themselves to be featured. And I think that's a reason we've had some success recently is focusing on a professional representation -- maybe we'll do some risqué stuff but we'll balance it with a more conservative post next. It's more about featuring the fun aspects of golf. And that's why brands want to work with us: Because we have one of the largest female demographic Instagram followers in golf. And we do it in a tasteful way, at least we try to, I'm sure people could argue otherwise.
What are the conversations like when deciding whether or not to post something?
It's hard because it's a blurred line between being tasteful and too sexy and stuff, because we also want girls to be proud of their body. Like in Hawaii, it's common to play golf in your bathing suit, so go do it. It gets tough -- we often have to debate about posts. We'll send it around to our team and discuss. If someone thinks a post is too risqué, maybe they'll suggest a change to a comment to make the post more empowering. Or we'll scrap a photo all together. People probably think it's easy, but we actually put a lot of thought into each post.
What's your golf background and experience, and how you became connected into this larger community?
I started playing golf when I was three. My dad caught the golf bug, and he brought me to I was born in Rockford, Illinois, not too far from Chicago. I started competing in events when I was 7 years old. I became a top girls player in Illinois from ages 8 to 12. Granted, there weren't too many girls competing, but I often represented Illinois in any national event, like the U.S. Kids tournaments and Junior Worlds all of those tournaments. I was one of those kids who was raised to eat, sleep and breathe golf, so I did! I do love it. I moved out to California and played in high school, and played in college at Cal-State Fullerton. Then I turned pro. It's my second year as a professional. I had two wins last year (won the Wigwam event in April on the Cactus Tour, and one WGA event at Hidden Valley in February) -- I finished in the top-10 on the Cactus Tour, which was great.
What's next for you pro-wise?
The first half of this year I was doing some promo stuff for Cobra/Puma and Best Western and some other stuff. Half of the time I've been spending in golf media, and the other half in pro golf. Q-School's in August, so it's time to get ready for that. I have a couple state opens and some Cactus Tour events to improve my status before Q-School. I played well last year over the first couple of days, made the first cut, but then I just crapped out and shot an 80 or something and didn't make it to Stage 2. So it's tough when you have low status, trying to better my status this year and go from there. I'll be able to get into some Symmetra events before getting to Q-School, and keep competing.
A lot of us Millennials grew up as hip-hop fans. Do you think that's why you've become so popular on social media?
Yeah totally. Golf is sort of missing that young vibe, so it's all about relating better to Millennials. I think whenever I get to dance, I get to relate to people who are younger. Whenever I post a dance video, I get messages from a lot of young junior golfers who tell me, 'That's so cool. I know that dance, it's so popular in school, and I love golf. You're the only one doing stuff like that.' So that stuff is cool, and it only helps people engage with the game more. It's all about keeping it fun. I didn't think I'd be able to help grow the game so people this way.