During a random 24-hour period in early January, Twitter was abuzz with dispatches from the golf world. The posts ranged from banal (Paula Creamer: “Wow. ‘Avatar’ has to be one of the best movies ever. Genius!!!”) to very informative (Masters champ Trevor Immelman offering an update on his injured wrist: “I’ll be hitting full wedges in a couple weeks. I’ve been chipping and putting for a little while so I’m looking forward to it.”) to droll (Sports Illustrated’s Damon Hack: “Just re-upped in the Golf Writers Association of America. Happy about it, but I still can’t hit a 3-iron.”)
Blogger Geoff Shackelford linked to the latest developments in the ongoing Tiger Woods scandal, while a handful of players posted photos of their lives away from golf: Oregon alum Peter Jacobsen posed with Ohio State’s John Cook, each decked out in their school colors in the Rose Bowl parking lot, while LPGA star Christina Kim shared a series of amusing photos from her recent New Year’s Eve hijinks.
Twitter.com, the free micro-blogging website on which anyone can post a running diary of their life 140 characters at a time, turns out to be an electronic community uniquely suited for the golf world, allowing players, fans and the media to connect with each other. It’s an especially helpful tool for a global sport in which the players travel alone without the support or companionship of a team or teammates.
“Being a touring pro can be an isolating life, and Twitter is a way to feel connected to a larger community of like-minded people,” says Kim, one of golf’s most prolific tweeters. She began using Twitter in May of 2009, and by the end of the year had posted more than 8,000 tweets on her personal feed. She was inspired to use the communication tool after an LPGA player summit during which the tour’s brass encouraged the players to find new ways to reach out to fans.
“There’s no doubt that, as an institution, the LPGA needs to be more creative in generating buzz, because we don’t get nearly the same amount of coverage in print or on the airwaves as the PGATour,” says Kim. “But for me, Twitter was not clever viral marketing, but rather a fun diversion and a dynamic way to interact with fans.”
Kim held an electronic giveaway for the lucky person who became her 1,000th follower, promising to send them a signed photo and a dozen golf balls. She later repeated this for the 2,000th and 3,000th followers.
Of course, those numbers are dwarfed by some of golf ‘s early Twitter adopters. Stewart Cink was the first top pro to reach the masses and the 2009 British Open champ now has over 1.1 million followers. He is a case study in how Twitter can reveal a pro athlete’s personality more effectively than any other medium. For years Cink was considered a nice, polite, smart but altogether dull presence on Tour.
Turns out he was just shy and self-conscious in interviews. Via Twitter, he has displayed a sharp wit and mischievous sensibility. During his epic British Open victory at Turnberry—which culminated in Tom Watson being denied a march on history—Cink found time for a couple of classic tweets. Prior to the third round, he wrote, “Pretty sure I have swine flu. I thought if you like BBQ as much as I do, that your antibodies would be built up against it!” That night he posted a picture with the following caption: “This vending machine at T’berry locker room can meet ANY need that arises. 2nd to last one is condoms.”
England’s Ian Poulter (who has more than 930,000 followers) has taken this interactivity to a whole new level, posting numerous videos on his feed, including a walking tour of his massive, Technicolor closet and a uproarious clip of him burning rubber on a racetrack in a suped-up BMW.
But lest you think Poulter a wee too laddish, he has also revealed a soft side. Recently he wrote, “Having breakie, not used to the old fashioned real tea with a strainer, reminds me of my Nan, nice memories.” Across the golf world and Twitter universe, you could practically hear all the “aawwwwws.”