Inside the players’ response to the LPGA’s Roe v. Wade stance

KMPG PGA Championship winner In Gee Chun putts on the 18th green of the major's final round in June. (Montana Pritchard/PGA of America)

On Friday, June 24, six-year LPGA Tour veteran Lauren Kim sat scrolling through Instagram. As she processed the ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, overturning the 50-year precedent set by Roe v. Wade that guaranteed women the right to an abortion at a federal level, she clicked on friend Michelle Wie West’s Instagram story.

The first post celebrated the engagement of one of Wie West’s friends.

Tap — a comment on the devastation of Roe V. Wade.

Another tap — an announcement of a new product launch.

Kim texted Wie West afterward, explaining how her Instagram stories poignantly reflected Kim’s own experience with the news, as she attempted to process a life-altering Supreme Court decision while going about her day.

That message set off a chain of events culminating in over 20 LPGA players sharing a statement the following Tuesday that decried the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson and advocated for women’s reproductive rights as “human rights.” After the LPGA’s own delayed and all-encompassing response to the ruling, players didn’t want their voices to get lost in the shuffle. The final impetus came from a conversation with LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan, who explained the tour’s stance and encouraged them to share their personal views separately.

“I can kind of say as a blanket statement,” Kim said, “that a lot of us did feel like it was so hard to be part of a women’s organization and not have a stance on this.”

When the Supreme Court handed down the decision on June 24, the LPGA was in the middle of the second round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., only 12 miles away from the Supreme Court.

A Golfweek reporter approached 2017 rookie Mariah Stackhouse after she finished her round that day and was the first to notify her of the landmark decision.

“My response to that was definitely extremely raw,” Stackhouse said. “I didn’t have much time to really think over it.”

Stackhouse then called Kim, who wasn’t in the field for the PGA Championship, and they spoke for 30 minutes about the ramifications of the ruling. Later, another friend texted Kim a screenshot of a reporter’s tweet that the LPGA didn’t plan to release a statement. Unsure if that meant no statement on the day of the decision or no statement period, Kim continued to ponder courses of action.

“I think there being possibly no statement was what kind of spurred our whole statement and feeling this responsibility to speak out,” she said.

Kim jotted down some thoughts reacting to what went on that day.

On Saturday morning, per Kim, the LPGA’s commissioner reached out to Wie West to explain that the tour was working on a statement. Marcoux Samaan confirmed she had spoken “to the board on this issue.”

Marcoux Samaan then appeared on NBC for an interview about the state of the PGA Championship but didn’t discuss the ruling.

The tour released its statement Saturday evening on social media. It didn’t mention reproductive rights or abortion, but rather highlighted that important women’s rights issues were now being addressed at the state level.

Kim and Marina Alex, who gave the LPGA feedback on the statement and passed it along to players, felt the tour did its best to encompass everyone’s perspectives.

“It becomes very difficult at that point to make any kind of statement that you feel has a lot of — I don’t want to say substance — but it’s hard for it to come from the heart when you’re trying to make sure that you are equally representing everyone that the tour body represents,” Alex said.

As the players began crafting a statement of their own, Wie West took on the bulk of the writing, while Kim and Lee contributed their thoughts.

Kim then scheduled a phone call with Marcoux Samaan and another player for Sunday. The commissioner, less than a year into her role, explained in detail to Kim why the tour’s statement included that particular phrasing.

“She’s very diplomatic,” Kim explained. “She said, ‘You know what? I can’t physically put out a statement just on my views. I have to take into account that there are players on the tour that believe that this is something to be celebrated. And if we have players on tour who believe that, then putting out a statement on behalf of the tour, it can’t be pro-choice in that regard.’”

Marcoux Samaan, she said, also encouraged the players to use their platforms to advocate for what they believed.

“I think we all took that as permission to post,” Kim said.

When asked to comment on her conversations with Kim that weekend, Marcoux Samaan did not confirm or deny that they spoke.

“It’s not appropriate for me to comment on private conversations with players,” Marcoux Samaan wrote via email. “We will always advocate for women’s rights, inclusion and equality as an organization.”

Kim, Lee and Wie West sought more feedback from players to see who might be open to sharing a player-driven statement, and to ensure their words did not come across as pointing the finger at the LPGA or blaming the tour writ large. Rather, they wanted it to express what they felt as female athletes at a crucial moment for women’s rights. Twenty of their peers ended up reaching out with their thoughts.

The day after the major championship concluded Sunday, some players stayed behind for the second Renee Powell Clearview Legacy Benefit.

The LPGA-promoted event raises money for the Clearview Legacy Foundation and the endowment for Clearview course, which Powell’s father founded in 1948 in East Canton, Ohio, after facing racial discrimination at other golf courses. Powell joins Stackhouse as two of eight Black players in the 72-year history of the LPGA, and the only two active Black players on tour.

Mariah Stackhouse speaks at the Renee Powell Clearview Legacy Benefit immediately following the PGA Championship. (Elsa/Getty Images)

“When you look at the juxtaposition of that and the LPGA non-statement that they put out regarding Roe V. Wade, I feel like as a woman’s organization, it’s incredibly important to be bold,” Stackhouse said. “Oftentimes, we as women are the only people that are going to speak for us as women. We talk a lot about equality on the LPGA Tour, raising our purses, the disparity between the opportunities that men and women have in golf, the pay opportunities, financial limits men and women have.

“We’re always talking about the importance of progression. And so when you have a ruling like this, where we’ve regressed to 50-plus years in the past, to read a statement that felt timid, fearful, a statement that held none of the attributes that go with unapologetic boldness and, affirmation towards a woman’s right to complete autonomy over our personal choices, that was very disappointing.”

Wie West reached out to Stackhouse on Monday morning to let her know that a statement was forthcoming and to encourage her to spread the word to other players at the event.

Allisen Corpuz joined in on the conversations with fellow players at the benefit. Abortion rights hit close to home for the rookie, whose mom once had an ectopic pregnancy that required an abortion. After putting her emotions to the side while competing at the PGA Championship, Corpuz started researching and compiling data points Monday night as soon as she landed in Los Angeles.

“I was just really angry, and at first I didn’t know if I was gonna post it or not,” she said. “Then I saw the player statement [and was] really happy with a player statement, but at the same time, I felt that I had a lot more to say, especially with the story about my mom.”

Wie West, Kim, Lee and Alex texted the final draft of the player statement to those they knew had expressed interest. By Monday night, their statement had evolved from a gut reaction to a thoughtful response that expressed their hopes for a future in which all women get the health care they need.

“[Wie West] said her eyeballs were burning after the weekend,” Kim said. “We were just going back and forth, just constantly on the phone.”

Michelle Wie West led the writing of the players' statement. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

As they passed along the statement, the group asked each player to share the post on Tuesday morning and to add their own thoughts to their captions.

“I feel like if I didn’t say more than just [the LPGA’s statement],” Alex said, “I’m not doing my job as someone with a bit of a platform.

“I don’t have a huge platform, but I do have some, so I feel like it’s a bit of a social and moral responsibility to speak on behalf of some of those women out there that probably are not able to say anything.”

Current and former LPGA players Kay Cockerill, Gemma Dryburgh, Lily He, Pat Hurst, Bronte Law, Jeehae Lee, Brittany Lincicome, Meg Mallon, Suzann Pettersen, Mel Reid, Jenny Shin, Charlotte Thomas, Albane Valenzuela, Alison Walshe and Karrie Webb joined Alex, Kim, Lee, Stackhouse and Wie West in sharing the post to their accounts.

Other players, caddies and LPGA staff members then circulated it on their Instagram stories, a gesture that gave Stackhouse and others a glimmer of hope during a trying time.

“I think especially within the golf community, it’s not always easy to be bold and confident in any progressive ideology because there’s going to be a lot of pushback in the golf space,” Stackhouse said. “And so to see everyone who decided that they were going to stand for what they believed in at that moment, even if it was very uncomfortable, it made me proud. Especially when following the LPGA statement that came out, and there was nothing really that I could be proud of there.”

The commissioner also appreciated the players’ gesture.

“Our players are leaders and role models and I am proud that they used their platforms to advocate on this important issue as we encouraged them to do in our statement on June 25th,” she wrote via email.

Corpuz was motivated to follow through with her own statement after seeing the reception on social media. She had a few friends scan the nearly 1,300 words she drafted, which ranged from the emotions of her mom’s story, to her thoughts about limiting the number of safe abortions, to the trauma of carrying a conception through sexual violence to term, to her love for the tour and her disappointment in the LPGA’s statement.

She posted it on Wednesday, June 29, and then avoided Instagram for the next six hours, only occasionally swiping in and back out in under two seconds.

“I think that I probably was in more of a position to speak about it just because I’m a rookie,” Corpuz said. “I don’t really have too many sponsors to worry about upsetting right now, honestly. I think that’s probably a big reason why other girls aren’t super public about all politics, not just the topic of abortion.”

Reflecting on the process behind the statement, the players were proud of how it came together and that it resonated while not putting the onus on the LPGA.

But they weren’t done.

After the coordinated posts on Tuesday, 12 players met with Marcoux Samaan over Zoom — including one who was anti-abortion — in a prescheduled Diversity Council meeting. The group, which Wie West put together, met for the first time at the DIO Implant LA Open back in late April.

In the call with Marcoux Samaan, many sought to get across that, while they understood the LPGA’s need for neutrality given the current political climate and the fact that its members do not share all of the same views, the tour’s silence during the apex of a crisis created some of the loudest noise in women’s sports.

Lauren Kim has been a leader in these efforts from the beginning. (Michael Cohen/Getty Images)

In the future, those same players hope the LPGA will be quicker to respond as they work together to figure out what role the tour plays in a time of crisis. In reference to the Diversity Council meeting, Marcoux Samaan again declined to comment on private conversations with players.

Since then, the conversation has continued, with multiple sources confirming that there was a players-only meeting Monday night, during which Roe v. Wade was discussed.

“It’s fine if it’s neutral, but I think it needed to come within hours of the decision,” Kim said. “We’ve made the LPGA very aware of that. I think that’s something that is not going to be fixed. It can’t retroactively be fixed, and it won’t be fixed until something like this happens again.

“But I think the timing of things in these situations is really important. And particularly as a women’s sports organization, silence speaks volumes.”

Kent Paisley is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.