Fairway to Heaven

Photography by Dhrumil Desai | Shot on location at Torrey Pines Golf Course and The Lodge at Torrey Pines | Styling by Amanda Thorne-Pritchard of Thorne Artistry | Hair and makeup by Melissa Graff of Melissa Rae and Co. | Photographer ‘s assistant: Siobhan Webb | Stylist ‘s assistant: Avery Helgeson

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the August 2015 PACIFIC magazine.

Five seconds into the trick-shot video produced by the 2015 San Diego State University women’s golf team (which has now been viewed on social media by, oh, about a ga-zillion people worldwide) team captain Paige Spiranac does a no-hands cartwheel and flies from right to left through the frame. The dazzling maneuver, a metaphor for her now high-flying career, is but one of many Spiranac impressively executes in the production.

“We were joking when we first put it out [and thought] that, maybe, we’d get like five thousand views, and that would be impressive,” says Spiranac. “Within a couple of days, we were at, you know, a hundred thousand... and five-hundred thousand. We were all shocked. It was unbelievable and so crazy.”

Irrespective of the SDSU video (because she didn’t yet have a Twitter, Facebook or Instagram account at the time it went viral), Spiranac has subsequently become a social media phenomenon in her own right. Her Instagram followers grew from 15,000 in late July to more than a quarter of a million by mid-August.

“It’s unbelievable that that many people find me interesting, I guess,” says Spiranac. “But it’s extremely flattering, and I’m very fortunate that this is happening. It’s been a way to kind of help my golf career, so I’m very thankful for that.”

But don’t dismiss Spiranac as merely a golf trick-shot artist or social media curiosity. She’s got game. Her personal best is a 10-under-par 62, and she has twice shot 65 in competition. She’s also made three holes-in-one — some pro golfers go an entire career without sinking one.

A former competitive gymnast whose career was curtailed by a broken kneecap, Spiranac was 12 when she swung a golf club for the first time a decade ago.

“My dad [Dan Spiranac, a member of the University of Pittsburgh’s 1976 national championship football team] was like, ‘Hey, just try golf’ [after gymnastics], so they bought me a lesson with Ann Finke, a veteran teaching professional in Colorado Springs,” she says. “I hit the first ball and loved it right away. I think my gymnastics background helped me a lot, just from my body awareness and being physically strong and fit... and also the work ethic, because I was in the gym almost seven hours six days a week.”

Spiranac’s work ethic quickly paid dividends. Only six months after taking up golf, she was shooting even par and won a couple of tournaments, including the first one she entered.

“That doesn’t happen too often, I don’t think,” Spiranac says, punctuating the modest statement with an infectious laugh. “I honestly didn’t really know that I was that good at [golf ] because I really had no idea. I don’t really come from a golfing family.”

Indisputable confirmation came when the University of Arizona offered Spiranac a full-ride scholarship. She played for the Lady Wildcats golf team as a freshman before transferring to San Diego State in her sophomore year.

"(Arizona) just wasn’t exactly the right fit for me,” says Spiranac, who hails originally from Colorado. “I was looking for something a little bit different, and San Diego State just fit it perfectly. It was a really great change for me.”

Great for the Lady Aztecs, too. In her just-completed senior season, Spiranac helped lead SDSU to the Mountain West Conference championship. She turned pro in early August - and signed a sponsorship deal with Callaway Golf on August 8.

“She’s poised to become the top player in women’s golf,” says sports agent Todd Hahn of his new client, who can’t wait for her first professional tournament in September.

“I’d love to be on the LPGA [Tour ],” Spiranac says. “That’s the Number One goal, chasing that dream.”

And she’s certainly in the swing of making that fantasy come to fruition.