There are no ropes to separate fans from their favorite golfers in cyberspace.
More than 200 professional golfers, from the seldom-recognized Nationwide Tour guys to 76-year-old Gary Player (@garyplayer) use Twitter to interact with fans. The tip of the cap or wave on the course has been replaced by a 140 character recap of whatever is going on in their lives.
Twitter is not being exclusively used, as some might assume, as a medium to thank sponsors or promote equipment, though there is some of that. Some messages are joyous and personal. Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) and his wife Angie (@angieb1433) tweeted the news that they had adopted a baby last week.
Sometimes the players will break news that affects tournaments.
When it was announced in the Masters media room earlier this week that Dustin Johnson had withdrawn, media were told to contact his representative to know why.
It wasn’t necessary.
A few minutes later, Johnson (DJohnsonPGA) tweeted, “First I have to apologize to the fans and sponsors. With heartfelt regret, I won’t be playing in the Masters due to a tweaked back. #imsorry”
News traveling faster than titanium-powered drive happened again on Friday during the second round of the Masters. There was an announcement about a discrepancy between the scorecard Luke Donald (@LukeDonald) signed and what his score was thought to be.
A few minutes later, his wife Donna (@DianeDonald) tweeted, “Just got off the phone with Luke, NOT disqualified. Thank goodness.”
“We’ve seen an explosion of our athletes embracing social media and each have done it in a way that’s unique to them,” said Ty Votaw, PGA Tour (@PGATOUR) executive vice president of communications. “Anything that can get our players to connect more with our fans on a one-to-one basis we encourage and we’re thrilled about.”
That somewhat unfiltered access can be a blessing and a curse, according to Paul Azinger (@PaulAzinger).
Azinger is one who, up until recently, didn’t restrict his tweets to supporting sponsors. He has tweeted about political issues and other societal issues.
However, some of the feedback he was getting from his more than 60,000 followers, including one who said he should make like his friend Payne Stewart and die, caused him to re-think his approach.
“That hurt me,” he said. “Twitter opens you up to that.”
As a result of some of the hurtful responses, Azinger has restricted his tweets mostly to Masters trivia questions. He said on Tuesday that he’s probably going to restrict what he does even more.
“I enjoy it, but at the same time I realize there are issues,” he said.
Votaw said some of the players, before they start cold-tweeting, come to the PGA Tour and ask the best way to take advantage of the service. Votaw said the PGA Tour doesn’t have rules about tweeting, but they do have guidelines.
There have been a few mistweets or episodes of weirdness. Stewart Cink (@stewartcink), one of the first professional athletes to embrace twitter and how has more than 1.2 million followers, seemed to accidentally send out a less than flattering tweet about Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods). It turns out his account was hacked. Ian Poulter (@IanPoulter) has gotten into trouble a few times for tweets about Woods and for using his cell phone to post videos of Augusta National, which is against the club’s policy.
Votaw wouldn’t say if the PGA Tour has ever reprimanded anyone over a tweet. He did say that the players seem to understand the message that how they interact with fans on the internet is as important as their interaction on the course.
A tweet can carry as much weight as a handshake.
“We are fortunate to have a set of athletes who are mindful of that in virtually every instance every day,” Votaw said.
What’s your handle, good buddy?
Here’s a partial list of some of the golfers and golfing personalities on twitter: