It took a lot for Gigi Stoll to chop off eight inches of her thick, hazel hair during her senior year at the University of Arizona – not because she was worried about the way she would look, but because she was contemplating a commitment to herself and her identity.
“That was a turning point in my life because I feel like that at that point everybody kind of knew that I was I was gay just based on my haircut,” Stoll said.
At first, she thought nobody would care. But as she began sporting her new, shorter style, she quickly realized that a lot of people cared. People began asking why she cut her hair and offering their unsolicited opinions about her new look – mainly that she looked better with long hair.
“I actually got a lot of negative comments about it, and I realized that this was something that we need to talk about,” recalled Stoll. “I am happy to share this story because I feel like there’s a lot of judgment and a lot of negative comments based on who you love, and it really shouldn’t matter. So, I’m proud to be somebody who is able to speak on it and be an advocate for others.”
Stoll always knew she was gay, but it wasn’t something she confronted head on until that haircut. Before that, she said she always held that part of herself back, especially on the golf course surrounded by a more conservative culture.
Portland Golf Club served as Stoll’s playground when she was in grade school. Introduced to the game by her dad, Mike, Stoll’s love for golf was stoked by her brother Ian. The two would spend hours duking it out on the golf course, and by the time Stoll was eight, she was beating her 12-year-old brother nearly every time they went out together.
“(Ian) and I would always go out to the golf course and compete against each other. I think that’s where I got some of my competitive edge and a little bit of love for the game. It started at a young age just from wanting to beat my brother and enjoying the individuality of the sport.”
After racking up wins against her brother, Stoll quickly rose through the high school ranks and committed to play for Arizona. When she touched down in Tuscon, Stoll was met with hot sun, dry desert air and a fantastic support system among her fellow teammates and coaches. With so many people in her corner, Stoll felt free to be herself – even on the golf course.
“It took a long time for me to fully accept being gay because some people do look at it as a negative and in the game of golf there’s a lot of old traditions,” she explained. “In college, I had a team and a coach and people around me who I really felt like cared, and I was able to truly become who I was.”
And that’s when Stoll, buoyed by a lot of her own courage and even more love from everyone around her, cut her hair. Luckily, all the negativity she faced was counterbalanced by love and support from her teammates, friends and family. Stoll was able to stand by her commitment to herself confidently and enjoy her newfound identity.
“I just really didn't feel like it was something that should be a problem to anyone else other than myself,” Stoll said. “I think it’s cool to be able to do what makes me happy, and I feel like that’s what everyone else should be able to do.”
It’s been over six years since then and, now a veteran on the Epson Tour, Stoll is still able to enjoy being her full self on the golf course. Her girlfriend of two years comes out to watch Stoll play as often as possible and even caddied for Stoll last year.
After five seasons on the LPGA’s official qualifying Tour, Stoll found her first professional win in March at the Casino Del Sol Golf Classic at Sewailo Golf Club – her home course while she was playing at Arizona. While Stoll’s girlfriend wasn’t able to watch her win, she was there to celebrate with Stoll the next day and help her digest the previous day’s events.
“It definitely took a little bit of time for me to really process all the hard work that I had put in leading up to that point and to finally kind of get the monkey off my back and get the win,” Stoll said. “To be able to share it with my caddie and my family and to come back home and have all that support to really process the win means so much to me.”
Stoll has kept that momentum going, finishing runner up at the Champions Fore Change Invitational – just two strokes behind Alena Sharp. Though she didn’t come out with the win, Stoll thoroughly appreciated what it meant for the two of them to be sitting beside each other on the leaderboard.
“The tournament that we just played in was a tournament for change,” Stoll said. “It was good to see me and Alena at the finish just based on what the event meant to LPGA and Epson Tours. It was really nice to see both of our names at the top.”
Though she sees a more modern culture on the golf course than the one she grew up with, Stoll knows that golf still has a long way to go. While Sharp and Stoll feel free to be themselves, Stoll knows better than anyone else that there are plenty of people out there who still don’t. She knows many golfers who keep their sexuality a secret because they fear losing or not getting sponsorship deals – which are crucial for athletes on the Epson Tour.
“I even know some girls on tour who are scared to come out because they’re scared that they won’t get sponsorship deals and things like that,” Stoll explained. “That just makes me sick, honestly, because it shouldn’t matter. What you do at your house, in your personal time, I don’t feel like anyone should judge – especially who you love.”
Stoll believes the key to continuing to change the game for the better is to have people like herself, who can speak out, continually advocating for progress.
“I think it’s important to share my story because I feel like there are a lot of people who have a story and are either shamed for being who they are or unable to speak on their truth,” she said. “As someone who is very confident in who I am, what I believe in and who I love, I just want to be an advocate for everybody who feels like they have a story and wants to share their truth.”