The LPGA Women’s Network has partnered with FORAY GOLF, a company redefining golf apparel for modern women and their unique expressions of style, to celebrate the women who are challenging the status quo in golf.
The Women Beyond Par series puts a spotlight on the pioneers who are growing the game for all girls and women and blazing trails to accomplish their dreams.
Anya Alvarez felt she was living out her true calling while she was on the LPGA Tour, but, little did she know, her decision to leave professional golf in pursuit of her lifelong passion for writing would lead her on a mission to help change the way people view women in sports.
When Alvarez made the leap from LPGA Tour professional to becoming a sports journalist for ESPN, she quickly noticed how little women’s sports were being covered. It wasn’t long before she decided to make it her life’s mission to create more opportunities for young women through sports. She recently started an organization called Major League Girls (MLG), an online community for girls to share stories about how playing sports has changed their lives, but it’s just the beginning of what she envisions for the future of the organization. We sat down with Alvarez for a quick nine to discuss MLG, the empowering impact of playing golf and the future of women’s sports.
“This was the perfect time to launch Major League Girls … We have close to 30 million girls in the U.S. that play sports so it’s crazy to me that there is nothing that exists for them in this space.”
—Anya Alvarez, founder of Major League Girls
1. Tell me about the moment that led you to creating Major League Girls. Was it a definitive moment or series of events that made you think: I need to do this?
MLG was a long journey. I started a project a while back with Shasta Averyhardt, who played on the LPGA, and we started something called Major League Women. It was a community for women in sports, but I soon realized there was nothing for young girls who love sports, or a community to help them find women they can look up to in the world of sports. That’s when we decided changed the focus to Major League Girls. I was at a WNBA Washington Mystics basketball game, and the people who stood out to me in the crowd were the girls. They were excited to be at the game with their parents, holding homemade signs for their favorite players and they were cheering the loudest. In that moment I thought, “the future of sports is girls”. There really needs to be something for them and it reaffirmed my idea for MLG.
2. What role has golf played in your life, as far as confidence and feeling empowered?
Golf played a huge role in my life. I grew up on a golf course where I was the only girl that played. I had to either suck it up and play with the boys, or I could have been discouraged not to play because I didn’t have any girls or women to play with. Luckily that wasn’t the case. I learned so many values. I think the greatest thing that golf has taught me is discipline and being dedicated to something. It has helped me in my new endeavors outside of golf and allowed me to flourish.
3. It’s an exciting time for women right now. There have been a lot of movements in support of women’s equality taking center stage. Did that play any role in starting your organization?
In many ways, yes. My mom calls this time period “the Wonder Woman effect”. We’re seeing this whole new generation of women who are seeing their value and worth at a much earlier age. Therefore, we’re going to have more empowered women who become leaders early on. They won’t be afraid to pursue their dreams or feel those limitations that our mothers and grandmothers felt. This was the perfect time to launch MLG. There’s no other website that is dedicated to targeting girls who love sports and play sports. We have close to 30 million girls in the U.S. that play sports so it’s crazy to me that there is nothing that exists for them in this space. I’m happy to tap into it and create a community for girls to feel like they belong, and they can share personal stories about how sports has impacted their lives.
4. What does it mean to you to be able to take on this type of leadership role in sports? Is it ever intimidating or overwhelming?
I think in some ways it is a little bit, but I’ve always wanted to be a behind-the-scenes person in creating opportunities for others. I love writing, and it’s given me the opportunity to tell the stories of so many incredible women in sports. Knowing this website will help give other women that platform is really exciting to me. It really is a big undertaking; the most daunting part is getting the funds to launch this the way it deserves to really captivate an audience. We want to do video content as well, so that’s where our focus is outside of the blog. We’re looking for investors who want to donate to our Kickstarter campaign to help with this.
5. Was there someone who inspired you when you were a young girl?
Annika Sorenstam and Se Ri Pak were my heroes. When Annika started working out, it inspired me to start exercising as well. I started ordering all these workout videos from infomercials with my mom’s credit card without telling her, and I just went crazy! I was like: man, she’s the best golfer in the world and she works out a lot, I need to do the same. Seri Pak was another woman I really identified with. I am shorter with really strong legs. She is the same, and it made me feel more comfortable with my body knowing one of the best golfers in the world looked like me. I viewed my legs as an asset instead of something bad about myself because she used her legs to create power, and I could do the same thing too. They both influenced me, and their work ethic was something I tried to emulate growing up.
6. There’s of course a lot of talk about improving support for women’s professional golf, whether it’s more coverage of the sport more equal prize purses for the pros… what’s one thing that frustrated you on the LPGA or wished you could have changed?
I don’t think I would have changed anything about the Tour itself because I believe the LPGA and the Epson Tour do the best they can with the resources they have, and they are very supportive of the players. Instead I wished I could have changed my own mindset to really appreciate the opportunity to play professional golf. Even though it was hard and even though we don’t make as much money or whatever it is, I think if I had a different mindset I would have gotten more out of my time on the Tour.
I’d just continue to put pressure on the golf media to cover women’s golf and not just when there’s controversy but take it seriously and give women due credit and not focus on WAGs and social media starlets who don’t play professional golf as the main focal point of their coverage. I think there needs to be a stronger focus on the women playing on the Epson Tour and LPGA Tour who are really kicking butt and setting a new path for future generations of girls golf. I think there’s room for everyone to promote the game in their own way, but the women on tour bust their butts to be out there. There are women who make every cut and perform well in majors but still don’t have sponsors and to me that is unacceptable.
7. Is there a woman in your life that made you appreciate the opportunities girls and women have now because of the trailblazers before them?
My mom was my biggest fan growing up and she graduated high school the year before Title IX passed and the options at her high school were either doing the cheer team or home economics. They didn’t have sports for girls at her school at all, which is sad because she was so athletic, and I know she would have loved to at least have the opportunity for options to play a sport. There’s power in having choices and options.
8. Do you ever think about how your life would have been different without movements like Title IX?
When I think of how different my path has been because of sports compared to my mom, it makes me appreciate what I’ve been given through golf. I went to college on a golf scholarship, and I don’t have any debt, which is pretty amazing. My sister also played college golf and now she is a human rights attorney in Oklahoma. She helps people every day through her law practice. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but we were able to pull together enough resources for us to learn golf and allowed us to go to college. My mom didn’t have that option, she couldn’t afford to go to college and she went to college later in life when I was in high school. She had to work much harder and had a more difficult life in many ways because she didn’t have similar opportunities, so Mom is really excited and proud for my new endeavors.
9. What do you hope to accomplish with Major League Girls? What is the long-term goal?
The dream for MLG is not just to be a website but a lifestyle brand, so I envision having MLG sports camps in the future, weekend summits or retreats, and creating a grassroots community; that’s where you really create change is on a grassroots level. If we can connect with these girls face-to-face in the future, that will be even better. Another goal is to start a scholarship program for girls who write for the website, so if they want to go into the sports arena like journalism or coach or GM of a team, we can help them carve a path by contributing to the website and providing them with scholarships. I’ve already had some girls that are starting to write for the website and contribute to it. The MLG motto is we believe the future of sports is girls, and we want to empower girls to live passionately on and off the field. We’re really trying to create a movement and space for girls to share their stories.
To learn more about Major League Girls, visit: www.majorleaguegirls.com.