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As golf betting becomes the norm, 'wrong type of attention' will be part of the game

Rex Hoggard

The weekly grind can make the life of a PGA Tour player feel like a job. This wasn’t one of those times.

Joel Dahmen was living his best life earlier this year at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, following a second-round 64 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club that moved him into contention. Heading into a picture-perfect final round along the shores of Stillwater Cove, he was tied for fourth place and just a shot off the lead.

He woke Sunday morning and everything was perfect ... until he checked his phone.

“I was at my favorite place in the world, Pebble Beach, love the week, love everything about it. It was a beautiful sunny day and I woke up to this a--hole. Really?” Dahmen explained. “What a way to start a day and I played very nicely.”

Waiting in his Twitter mentions that Sunday morning was a message from someone with the handle @CaddiesUnited_VIP: “Hey f--k you [Dahmen],” along with a screen shot of a betting slip of $1,000 for Dahmen to miss the cut.

Dahmen, being one of the Tour’s more savvy players on social media, offered a relatively tame response: “What a lovely thing to wake up to,” he tweeted while planning a more cagey response. He then responded two days later after “a couple of cocktails” with a plan to pay half of @CaddiesUnited_VIP’s bets with the money he won for finishing sixth at Pebble Beach. 

“If he said yes, we had a funny YouTube clip of Jamie Foxx singing [a song] ‘F--k you.’ It’s hilarious,” Dahmen laughed. “He apologized so we didn’t do it, but it would have been awesome.”

Golf betting emerging from shadows of sport

Golf betting emerging from shadows of sport

Dahmen has learned it’s best to tame the outspoken types on Twitter with 280 characters at a time, but he also acknowledged that the collision of social media and sports betting is creating a toxic atmosphere that’s only becoming louder and more emboldened.

As the Tour follows the lead of other sports into the often ugly and emotional world of legalized sports betting, the mainstream element is bringing with it a gritty and outspoken fanbase who see social media as an access point to air their grievances.

“I’d miss a cut and the Venmo caption was, ‘I bet on you and you suck,’ along with a $1,000 [betting] slip,” Harry Higgs said. “Basically, pay me back. Look, I bet on other sports and you’re going to lose.”

The Tour continues to encourage players to engage with fans via social media with initiatives like the $15 million Player Impact Program and Higgs offered one of the more organic interactions earlier this year following a hole-in-one, his first on Tour, at The American Express.

Moments after signing for his opening 66 that included his ace on La Quinta Country Club’s 15th hole, Higgs was inundated by Venmo requests for $5 and $10, which he admits could have been avoided with a more discreet Venmo account name.

“I probably filled 15 or 20 of them with the caption, ‘First drink’s on me,’” Higgs laughed. “I said in an interview that I’d filled some of them and got like 500 [requests]. I didn’t fill any of those. I had fun filling them and then deleting all of them.”

Those positive interactions, however, are rare. More often the faceless masses are demanding retribution for what was simply the reality of gambling.

Max Homa, who along with Dahmen and Higgs has embraced social media despite all its warts and worrisome dialogue, has found himself on the wrong end of plenty exchanges.

Full-field tee times from The Players Championship

“It’s probably the most unpleasant place, but it’s also great for the game just because it boosts golf’s popularity and the attention to the sport is great,” Homa said. “I think going back and forth with that group probably isn’t the greatest idea. I’ve tried to explain to the gambling people that if you picked me and I played bad it’s not my fault it’s your fault. You gambled poorly.”

Talor Gooch has taken a harder line with those who choose to use social media to settle betting vendettas. The best example of this came following an opening 75 at The American Express that left Gooch tied for 143rd out of 156 players.

“I played [Gooch] … never seen a golfer [that] bad since Smylie Kaufman,” tweeted someone with the handle @MeechDFS. “[Gooch] is a f--king scrub.”

Gooch fired back: “The guy charging $40 for fantasy betting advice calling the guy who’s made $2.5M halfway thru the season a scrub.”

Like Dahmen and many others, Gooch understands the value of social media to individual brands and that those who use the platform like @MeechDFS are a vocal minority. Unlike many of the others, he relishes the chance to put those outspoken types in their place and he explained that he actually feeds off the venom and vitriol.

“It’s just a bunch of keyboard cowards. A bunch of guys who think they go online and they aren’t saying something to your face it’s easier for them to talk crap on social media,” Gooch said. “At the other end of that is an actual human and sometimes you have to clap back and be like, hey, I’m not going to deal with that crap.”

Players acknowledge that social media is a choice and as golf enters the new world of sports betting, the faceless are only going to become more outspoken and angry. It is, most agree, the price to pay for a more mainstream audience, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns.

“We all think this is a little dicey. In theory, we’re playing for more, but this could be dicey,” Higgs said. “None of us want to be the ones who have to kick somebody out or say something to people.”

There’s also the double-edged reality of social media. While the Tour has incentivized players to engage some have opted for a much lower profile.

Patrick Cantlay is the primary example of this. Despite having won three times on Tour last season and being voted the player of the year, he wasn’t among the top 10 on last year’s PIP that received bonuses of at least $3 million. Cantlay explained at last year’s Tour Championship that social media and the PIP were a “live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword type of deal.”

“I think when you have people that go for attention-seeking maneuvers, you leave yourself potentially open to having the wrong type of attention, and I think maybe that’s where we’re at and it may be a symptom of going for too much attention,” Cantlay said.

As players are learning the “wrong type of attention” is part and parcel at the crossroads of unfiltered social media and sports betting and as golf embraces both it’s only going to get louder.