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Powerful or racy? Golf Digest cover featuring topless Lexi Thomspon draws controversy

Twenty-year-old pro golfer Lexi Thompson is turning heads. Not for her play on the course but for her provocative Golf Digest magazine cover.
/ Source: TODAY

Twenty-year-old pro golfer Lexi Thompson is turning heads. This time, however, not for her play on the course but rather for her provocative Golf Digest magazine cover.

The cover features Thompson, the youngest-ever winner of an LPGA tournament, wearing only black bottoms, one golf glove and a white cloth draped over her shoulders to cover her chest for the magazine's May fitness issue.

As soon as the cover was released on April 2, many commented on how Thompson was depicted.

While Thompson is the third woman to cover Golf Digest's fitness issue (preceded by former Golf Channel and current Fox personality Holly Sonders and pro golfer Dustin Johnson's wife, Paulina Gretzky), she is the first female golfer to be featured on the issue.

For the last two years, when Sonders and Gretzky covered the issue, the magazine drew heavy criticism for not only the racy cover (Sonders was featured in tight clothing while Getzky appeared in a sports bra) but also not featuring an actual golfer.

Since 2008, only three professional golfers have been featured on a cover of the monthly magazine: Lorena Ochoa (2008), Michelle Wie (2014) and Thompson (2015).

Golf Digest's editor-in-chief, Jerry Tarde, wrote an editor's letter titled "Mea Culpa, Ladies" addressing the controversy and the strides the magazine has tried to make. "We've come a long way from a year ago when the LPGA condemned our choice of Paulina Gretzky (and Holly Sonders in 2013) as the cover images for Golf Digest's annual fitness issue. Mea culpa, ladies. You can have stunning beauty and the highest level of golf performance at the same time, as demonstrated this year by Lexi, Stacy Lewis, Cheyenne Woods and Michelle Wie."

Thompson tweeted her support of the shot, writing, "So pumped to represent fitness & power #girlpower."

Other golf insiders agree that the cover shows female golfers and powerful athletes, and can help popularize the sport among those who see golfers as real athletes.

"They wanted to create this discussion that the ladies on the LPGA Tour are athletes and they need to be seen as athletes and Lexi is certain a top-tier athlete," Lisa Cornwell, reporter for the Golf Channel, told TODAY's Sheinelle Jones. "When people look at her and think, 'Wow, golfers really are athletes,' she's a part of that."

Supporters of the cover, including Tarde, also point to the fact that Rory McIlroy appeared shirtless, depicted like Michelangelo's David, on the cover of Golf Digest in the magazine's April 2015 Master's preview issue and is on this month's Men's Health cover in a tight shirt that shows off his muscles.