Gretzky, the daughter of former NHL great Wayne Gretzky and fiancee of PGA Tour pro Dustin Johnson, is featured donning a white bikini top and matching leggings among other outfits Golf Digest has previewed on its website ahead of the release of its fitness issue.
"It's frustrating for female golfers," Stacy Lewis, the No. 3-ranked player in the world, told reporters at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, according to USA Today. "It's the state of where we've always been. We don't get the respect for being the golfers we are.
"Obviously, Golf Digest is trying to sell magazines, but at the same time you like to see a little respect for the women's game."
According to USA Today, the last two women Golf Digest featured on its cover were Golf Channel anchor Holly Sonders last May and model Kate Upton, who was shot with Arnold Palmer for the December issue. Lorena Ochoa was the last female player to be featured, in 2008.
The magazine defended its use of Gretzky, saying in the online preview that she "ranks at the high end of the golf celebrity scene today, and she has a compelling story to tell. She also might get some new people interested in the game."
But other players agreed with Lewis, including LPGA icon Juli Inkster.
"It's Golf Digest, it's not Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue," Inkster said, according to The New York Times. "I think they should maybe recognize some of the great women golfers that we have. It's like, what do you have to do to get a little respect? I'm guaranteeing you right now, it was not a woman editor who chose that cover."
Top-ranked player Inbee Park related how it could affect the LPGA's ability to gain on the men's tour in popularity.
"That's just been the way it is for over 20, 30 years," Park said. "We are trying to get closer to the guys, but obviously we are never going to get there. That's for sure. The LPGA is getting better and better."
Angela Stanford said it didn't surprise her to hear of the magazine's choice to put Gretzky on its cover.
"The question is who are they trying to sell to?" Stanford said. "If the answer is men 25 years old through 45 years old, then I guess that's what they have to do. You know the old saying, sex sells. And nobody can argue with that. It's just the way it is. But the LPGA has some attractive women and very fit women, so why not use them? I'm just baffled by it."
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