Tiger Woods revealed the news of his back surgery in a traditional story posted to his web- site. Yet that item, which ended hopes that he would play in the 2014 Masters, only became worldwide breaking news when Woods’ Twitter account sent out a link to the story, ac- companied by this short missive to his 3.83 million followers: “Sad to say I’m missing the Masters. Thanks to the fans for so many kind wishes.” The tweet, a 140-character-at-a-time social media message described by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey as “a short burst of inconsequential information,” has exploded as a primary source of consequential information. Tweets have also become an entertaining way to better understand the world of golf, com- municate with like-minded souls and get tips on green-fee deals or, in the case of renowned instructor Hank Haney, free swing advice. Eight years after Dorsey and friends invented Twitter
during a brainstorming session, and another four years after
the world of golf’s involvement reached critical mass, the PGA
and LPGA tours are now playing a pioneering role in the sports
world’s rush to embrace all things Twitter.
Fewer detractors than ever cling to the myth that Twitter
is a silly medium for people mindlessly posting photos of
their dinner, followed by a series of LOLs and smiley faces.
While some of that harmless inanity still takes place and
always will, the social media giant has become the place pro
golfers break news of engagements, injuries and equipment
switches. It’s where they vent about slow play, engage in
playful banter with colleagues and, most of all, reveal something about their personalities that 18 holes of tournament
golf will not allow.
“Golf’s what we do, not who we are,” says Christina Kim,
one of the first pro golfers to use the medium to raise both
her personal profile and that of the LPGA. “And that’s
what I love about Twitter: We can show who we are.” As
a business tool, Twitter allows companies, golf associations, courses, media outlets and professional tours to
directly reach fans in more personal and informative ways.
Network television has embraced tweets for something as
simple as reminding viewers that a telecast has started,
while also valuing the virtual water-cooler role Twitter
plays in embellishing the viewing experience with analysis,
humor or quick access to back stories.
“How can you go through life without knowing what’s go-
ing on while you’re watching something?” wonders Kim. “We
want to know what’s happening immediately.”
Amid its popularity Twitter’s growing pains have been
eye-opening and almost too numerous to list. In 2014 alone,
Ian Poulter (a massive presence driven by his daily interac-
tion with fans, eccentric mix of content and tweeting of deals
on his clothing line) called out Hideki Matsuyama on Twitter
the night before their pairing at the WGC-Cadillac Cham-
pionship after the 22-year-old Japanese star damaged the
surface of a green in anger while playing in the group ahead
of the Englishman. The next day they met and eased the ten-
sion before the round, which we learned from a photograph
tweeted by a writer covering the event.
Former PGA champion Steve Elkington added to his long
list of tasteless tweets by making a lame joke about the first
openly gay NFL prospect, Michael Sam, though he claimed
he was actually targeting ESPN’s excessive coverage of
Sam’s NFL combine performance. Elkington tried to backtrack, but the damage was done and there was widespread
outrage in the sports world. Although he has otherwise been
way ahead of the social-media curve for a couple of years,
Elkington has not put out an original tweet since, nor did he
play in the same March events on the Champions Tour he
played last year, fueling speculation that he was suspended
for his incendiary tweet. The PGA Tour does not comment
on fines or suspensions.
Even something as simple as a change of Twitter “
avatar”—the photo on a profile identifying the user—led some
to speculate that Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki had
broken up last summer. The couple announced their engagement just months later. On Twitter, naturally.
These days McIlroy primarily shares sponsor news with
his 1.85 million followers, leery of using Twitter too much.
“When you do well, you get hyped up so much, and when you
do badly, they think it’s the worst thing ever,” he says of many
Twitter followers. “So there is no real balance in it. I don’t
look at the comments that much, if I’m honest. I’ll look at my
timeline and people that I follow. But in terms of what fans
and public are saying, I try not to look into it too much.”
Ah, the timeline. That’s the long list of tweets by users
that a registered member of Twitter chooses to follow. This
“I use [Twitter] as my news source, versus a newspaper. When I get up or when I go to bed, I check it …