Who knew 140 characters held such immense power?
The power to destroy careers.
The power to drive conversations.
The power to build brands.
The power to spread goodwill.
From Ted Bishop’s ill-fated “lil girl” tweet to Tiger Woods’ journalistic instincts to Amanda Dufner’s ubiquitous bikini shots to the popular Ice Bucket Challenge, social media was a game-changer in 2014. And we saw it all – the good, the bad and, yes, the very, very ugly.
You’ve Got My Follow:
• No initiative gained more traction this year than the Ice Bucket Challenge. Everyone from Tim Finchem to Rory McIlroy to your next-door neighbor was doused with icy water in the name of charity. The stunt lasted for several months and raised more than $100 million for ALS research.
• Soon-to-be 40-year-old Karrie Webb may be considered ancient on a tour overrun by youngsters, but after winning the Founders Cup in March, she crouched beside the trophy, extended her left arm and continued a new tradition on the LPGA – the winner’s selfie. Since Webb got into the action, every winner on the women’s circuit has taken a selfie with the trophy. Just keeping up with the cool kids.
• When it came to brand-building, no one did it better in 2014 than Dufner. Few have ever heard the sound of her voice, but fans certainly know how Mrs. Dufner spends her many vacations. In the days, weeks and months after her hubby’s win at the 2013 PGA, her Instagram following went from a few thousand to its current status at 60,000-plus.
This year alone she posted a (since-deleted, but timelessly saved on the Internet) topless picture from Thailand, an artsy shot of her backside at the pool, and – what else? – an action photo of her swinging in a skimpy swimsuit. When a bikini-clad Dufner celebrated the Fourth of July by turning away from the camera and stretching the American flag above her head, the most popular comment was “God Bless America!” She is the undisputed leader in the WAGs clubhouse.
• Score one for the jocks: More athletes than ever before are handling their media affairs themselves. For decades, reporters were the only connection between athletes and their fans. Now, for better or worse, social media has made it possible for stars and spectators to connect and interact like never before, all without that pesky media middleman. Indeed, it’s an ever-changing world for news-gatherers. Though there is an insatiable desire for “insider” information about fans’ favorite teams and athletes, players can now control the message and break the news themselves.
That’s what Woods did this year when he announced that he was undergoing back surgery. Sure, there was a full story posted on his website, but fans and media were only alerted to the news because of a tweet on his feed. And when Woods decided to fire back at Golf Digest because of a mean-spirited parody, he didn’t grant an exclusive interview to a trusted media outlet – he penned a first-person essay on Derek Jeter’s new athlete-friendly website. It’s become commonplace for Tour pros to announce equipment or apparel deals online, as Ian Poulter (Cobra to Titleist) and Keegan Bradley (Tommy Hilfiger to Travis Mathews) have shown in recent months. The point: Why allow the media to potentially distort the message if the athletes can just control it themselves?
Please, Step Away from the Laptop:
• Social media starlet Paulina Gretzky is no stranger to creating a stir online, and that’s exactly what she did when she posted a photo of fiancé Dustin Johnson crouching to read a putt, barefoot, while holding a cigarette and a beer. Problem was, that photo hit the Interweb the same day that DJ withdrew from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Three days later, he announced that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence to deal with “personal challenges,” which presumably had little to do with Paulina’s putting stroke.
• Poulter didn’t do anything to dispel his reputation as a materialistic brat when he kvetched about his nanny’s business-class seat being downgraded. Not surprisingly, that comment didn’t fly with single moms who can’t afford an extra helper, nor can they purchase any of the six sports cars that the Englishman flaunts on his Twitter page. His mentions weren’t overly kind, either, when he admitted to paying to have his Christmas tree decorated. Little wonder he was blasted for being out of touch not just with fans but also reality.
MY GOD What Were You Thinking?!:
• With too much free time now that he’s playing the senior circuit, Steve Elkington hasn’t backed off his Twitter game despite an increasingly long list of foot-in-mouth moments. Last year, the former PGA champion came under fire for commenting on the body of a female golf reporter, making a joke about a deadly helicopter crash and using a racial slur about Pakistanis.
In February, Elkington didn’t merely cross the line, he gleefully hopped over it when he teased Michael Sam, who was attempting to become the first openly gay player in the NFL:
The PGA Tour doesn’t comment on player disciplinary matters, but Elk went dark on social media for several weeks. He’s been more subdued of late, perhaps in an attempt to salvage what is left of his major-champion reputation, but he remains one of golf’s most provocative commentators.
• The power of the “publish” button never was more evident than with Bishop’s “lil girl” tweet. The fallout was shocking in its swiftness.
On Oct. 23, Bishop was hanging with Nick Faldo at a junior clinic at The Greenbrier. The head of the PGA apparently took exception to remarks made by Poulter in a newly released autobiography, in which he wrote that players had “lost a lot of respect” for Faldo in the wake of his criticism of Sergio Garcia.
That night, Bishop, who represents 27,000 men and women, directed this tweet at Poulter:
The tweet blew up – after all, Poulter has nearly 1.8 million followers – and Bishop couldn’t even claim that he was hacked or that his message was misconstrued. Instead, he continued to bash the Ryder Cupper in a post on Facebook, writing, in part, that Poulter “sounds like a little school girl squealing during recess.”
Fans and scribes called for Bishop to be fired for the demeaning comments. A PGA spokesman issued a statement and described the posts as “inappropriate.” Bishop apologized to The Associated Press, saying that he “could have selected some different ways to express my thoughts.”
None of it helped. Within three days, the board of directors voted to remove him from office, the first PGA president to be impeached. He had one month left on his two-year term.
Bishop remains on Twitter (with 4,332 followers), but over the past two weeks he has used the platform mostly to express his views on the NFL, the college football playoff and, sadly, “Peter Pan Live.”
“It’s painful from the standpoint of demonstrating how stupid I was to have done what I did,” Bishop said on Golf Channel. “Probably more painful than that is the remorse I feel because I think it potentially wipes out a lot of the really good work I’ve done over my career.”
Behold the power of 140 characters.