Social Media Star to Professional Golf – Hannah B. Leiner’s Story
When I ask you to name an Instagram golfer, most people respond with Paige Spirinac, and that would be natural as she has 3.1 Million followers and is easily the largest golf presence on Instagram. But she is clearly not the only one playing golf and building a social media following. Hannah B. Leiner recently graduated from Florida International University earlier this spring, after playing golf with the Division-1 golf team for the past four years. She recently decided to focus her efforts on becoming a professional player and she counts her social media followers, some 100,000 plus on Instagram, as being her “secret weapon”.
Hannah B. Leiner was first introduced to the sport when she was five, but as a competitive dancer, she hadn’t really taken golf seriously until she was twelve.
“My dad actually got me into playing golf. I started when I was five years old. But at the time, I was actually competitively dancing. So I was a dancer from the ages of like 2 to like 12 years old. And then I took golf more seriously, because I started winning tournaments. And I started playing tournaments at 12 years old as well. So, I started playing and winning, and I loved winning, I didn't win as much in dance.”
The 12 year old Hannah didn’t stop either. She continued with her golf right on through high school and on to university which fuelled her dream of playing professionally—though it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“In junior golf, I had a very fortunate career and I always knew I want to become Pro. Then when I got to college, I started competing against a higher level, and I was kind of doubting myself. And I was unsure if I wanted to do that, especially with, you know, studying, I was really into my major. . . . So after kind of COVID hit, I took some time off from golf --- I was still like a golfer as I played and practiced whenever I had time and was active on social media with my golfing, but I wasn't taking it very seriously. Then one day, I just kind of like, woke up, and I was like, I miss, there's like something missing. I felt empty inside from not competing. And I was like, ‘You know what, I'm gonna put everything I have into this because I am young; I'm going to put all my efforts into becoming professional’. And that's basically where I'm at right now.”
To hear Hannah's interview
"The Long and Winding Road" on our podcast show, [Click Here}
The younger generation has been far more open to adopting social media and embracing its far-reaching capabilities, whether it is to simply stay in contact with existing friends or to just document their journey in life.
Along the way from high school to university, Leiner, was no different with social media, but she also decided to use the platform to promote her sport and in doing so, became an Instagram celebrity of sorts.
“In high school, actually, I never posted about golf, I would get made fun of for playing golf, people would be like golf isn't a real sport, golf is this, whatever. And I never really posted about it. Then in my senior year, I took a professional photo shoot with "Eye on You" photography down in South Florida. And I was like, I love the pictures. So, I decided to post them. And one of the pictures went viral.
“At the time I had like 1000 followers and that picture got 1000 likes, and I was like, how is this possible? Then it just blew up from there. I kept posting more golf content and I kept developing, I kept getting reposted and all those things and my followers just blew up – it kind of just happened. I never really had a plan for it. But, it's very fortunate that it did happen because it brought me so many opportunities like playing at prestige golf courses around America, playing in events, now turning professional I have a great support, like a support system and very encouraging followers. I also got to be on ‘Holey Moley’ season two, the TV show on ABC. So that was all because of my social media.”
Of course, having a strong social media presence also comes with a dark side to it, often leading to negative and hurtful comments directed to them or perhaps people trying to undermine their golf skills and abilities because of their social media presence. It has occurred most publicly with Paige Spiranac, as she has faced negative and hurtful comments with some of it being very hateful, so it is only logical to pose questions to Leiner about her experiences.
“I know people are going to talk, I know, people are going to have things to say about me, I don't really pay attention to them. Because at the end of the day, they're not living my life. And they're not going to be the ones who are going to make me feel happy, I kind of have to just stay on track. And of course, there'll be some comments I've run into that are not the nicest. But overall, my experience on social media has been pretty pleasant. I haven't gotten a lot of hate or things like that, or name calling, or, you know, stereotyping and stuff like that. I've been really getting a lot of encouraging messages and everything. So, I'm not too worried about it.”
Despite the negative aspect of social media, Hannah Leiner believes that the benefits of social media far outweigh any negativity, citing the importance of social media in promoting golf in addition to personal brands.
“I definitely think it's a process going hand in hand, I think that the golf world now more than ever before, has been really developing into social media. And it's been using social media to create content, to push out content, and especially with COVID (situation). It's hard to, you know, film things as much as before, so everyone's looking at social media nowadays, and it's been more useful than ever before.”
Having an interrupted golf season throughout the 2020 season and into the early part of 2021 means that players such as Leiner have gone almost a year and a half without competitive golf. Unlike their professional counterparts in the LPGA or PGA, NCAA golf was not fortunate enough to have the Covid-19 precautions or a “sports bubble” in which competition could occur, leaving many NCAA athletes like Leiner in a vacuum. They could practice but without competitive golf to measure themselves and their games. For Leiner, turning professional was a bit of an unknown for her given that she didn’t know where her game was at.
“The last competitive event that I played in was actually a year and a half ago. And I kind of had that pressure – where I haven't played in a long time, so let's kind of see where my foundation is. This is my starting event. So, let's see what I'm working with. That's kind of how I went into it, looking at it, and I was satisfied with the way I played. There's areas that I need to develop. And I think everyone in golf can say that about their game, but I just learned a lot about my game and what I need to work on. And then moving forward. I'm just going to keep working on my mental aspect – that’s a lot of … what kind of broke me in some areas”.
In our discussion, Leiner mapped out her intended path for the remainder of the 2021 season, starting off with qualification events for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, hosted by the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Her intended qualifying event is being conducted in Brunswick, New Jersey. As for the remainder of the season, she is looking to play some additional NWGA (National Women’s Golf Association) events in her home state of Florida and in other events around the country before gauging whether her game is strong enough to enter the LPGA’s Q-Series this season or to take another year of developing her game.
“I’m definitely looking into playing Q-school and going through that whole experience. I'm unsure if it's going to be this year, or if it's going to be next year. That's definitely something that's a goal of mine that I want to experience. But I will be qualifying for the US Open or trying to qualify for the US Open in May. So, I have that on my schedule. And right now, I'm just going to be trying to travel and play events around the country as well on different tours, just to kind of to get used to the different conditions; to get used to different life experiences; because in college we would travel to different courses. And I think that's very important to kind of get a look at different experiences. Because on the LPGA you're going to be traveling all the time playing different places all the time. So, I think that’s one of the most important things to do.
As she prepares to embark on this aspect of her fledging professional career, Hannah Leiner knows that she is fortunate for the strong support network that she has. In addition to her parents, Bleiner cites the wonderful support that she has received from her primary sponsor, PXG Golf, and her management company, OTG Management, for being extremely helpful to her. She is also very happy that her boyfriend, James Morgan, is in her corner. Morgan, a professional football player drafted by the New York Jets, caddied for Bleiner in one of her events. It was an experience that Bleiner relished.
“James just caddied for me, and honestly, of all the caddies I've ever had in my life, he was kind of the most positive. And he understands what professional athletes go through in very, like serious environments, and you know, having to be dialed in and in the zone. So, he understands that and that made it so much better, and I listened to him”.
With support like that Hannah Bleiner should be able to just focus on golf and preparing herself for the Q-Series, whether it be in 2021 or 2022. Given her strong social media presence, Bleiner is also hoping to hear from her online supporters who will be sharing this journey with her.
“I am very interactive with my followers, so if you give me a message, or have any questions for me at all, feel free to reach out to me or DM, or you can email me. You can find my email on my Instagram and ask any questions at all. I am very open and honest to talking to you guys”.
We will be watching for her journey in professional golf, looking for her to work her way into the more prestigious women’s professional tours. Regardless of where this journey takes her, Hannah Bleiner is wise enough to enjoy the journey and the process that she has undertaken.