Bishop saga is reminder of social media problems


ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – To be clear, this is not a Twitter problem. This is a Ted Bishop problem.

The wounds endured by the ousted PGA of America president were entirely self-inflicted and while some said his dismissal just weeks before he was scheduled to step down was excessive, his position was utterly indefensible following an ill-advised and insensitive tweet late Thursday.

“(Nick) Faldo’s record stands by itself. Six majors and all-time (Ryder Cup) points. Yours vs. His? Lil Girl,” Bishop opined in a missive directed at Ian Poulter, who had criticized the 2008 European Ryder Cup captain in his autobiography “No Limits.”

One would have thought Bishop had his hands full defending his own captain, Tom Watson, after last month’s boat race at Gleneagles, but instead he took to social media and now holds the distinction of being the first golf executive to be excommunicated as a result of a social media faux pas.

Bishop is not the first high-profile member of the golf community to be haunted by the “send” button – Steve Elkington likely holds that distinction – but the ousted president will certainly be the benchmark by which all future gaffes will be graded.

“This is why Corey Pavin told his guys (at the 2010 Ryder Cup) to be careful with Twitter,” Davis Love III said this week at Sea Island Resort, where he is hosting the McGaldrey Classic.

The double-edged sword of social media has become as much a part of life on the PGA Tour as five-hour rounds and TrackMan. Along with a Tour card, incoming rookies are handed a litany of Twitter “do’s and don’ts.”

Had Bishop sat through last month’s rookie orientation in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., he would have known, for example, that insensitive remarks of any kind are strictly verboten.

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“There are lot of positives and a lot of advantages you can have with social media,” said Zach Johnson, who has over 200,000 followers has sent over 7,000 tweets without a miscue. “It can be an asset and a strong liability at times. It’s hard to relay feelings through 140 characters.” 

Like most things in life, Twitter doesn’t come with a pause function, which may or may not have salvaged Bishop’s presidency. Nor does social media come with a built in editor, a reality that leaves users perched 140 characters away from building a brand or the brink of exile.

“Twitter is a dangerous tool. You can say things you can regret and instantly the whole world can see it,” Webb Simpson said. “I’ve said some things on Twitter I know I wish I could take back. We all make mistakes.”

It was strangely apropos that Poulter would play a bit part in Bishop’s downfall considering the Englishman’s checkered history on Twitter.

The European Ryder Cup hero ran afoul of many in the Twitter-verse earlier this year when he tweeted, “Booked six business seats for my wife and nanny to fly home and (British Airways) downgraded my nanny so (Poulter’s wife) has no help for 10 hours with four kids.”

Pampered Tour pro problems don’t go over well in the unfiltered world of social media, but despite that miscue, Poulter remains one of the most popular follows in the game and the undisputed king of social media on Tour.

“I know one thing you don’t do, you don’t get in a Twitter or Instagram battle with Ian Poulter,” Love said. “I lost one to him a while ago at Bay Hill. He’s a very clever guy.”

More than anything, however, Bishop’s plight exposes social media’s greatest flaw – too much can be lost in translation when limited to 140 characters (or in Bishop’s case, 118 characters).

While it seems unlikely Bishop’s insensitive remarks would have been dulled had he said it, for example, during a radio or television interview, that doesn’t change the reality that there are no emoticons that are able to flawlessly convey context.

“If it was a bit of banter, that goes on in the locker room all the time. This is the problem with Twitter. When things are not said face to face they get blown up,” Padraig Harrington said.

“I’m quite sure Ian Poulter has been called a little girl plenty of times in his life and he has retorted. But clearly Ted Bishop is in an important position and you have to be careful what you tweet when you are in that position.”

For most the golden rule is rather clear, think before you tweet. Or, as Matt Kuchar figured when told of Bishop’s insensitive offering on Thursday, there is an alternative, “I’m glad I don’t Twitter,” he said.