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"I occasionally check my replies, and read them and answer as many as I can, and then I'll go weeks without checking. I was driven away by some of the goons out there."
Stacy Lewis experienced a similar issue, though hers was somewhat self-inflicted after playing amid unfriendly crowds in dense China smog last fall. The reigning Ricoh Women's British Open champion deleted her account soon after tweeting her dismay at fans cheering missed shots and taking photos mid-stroke. She also inferred that the tournament winner was lucky on the last hole, where Shanshan Feng's approach shot flirted with a water hazard before bouncing onto the green and hitting the flagstick, leaving a short putt to win. Lewis was bombarded with hateful messages. A more guarded Lewis eventually returned to Twitter.
"I've definitely gotten more selective, more tweets like, 'This is what I'm doing,' instead of a back-and-forth communication," she says. "When you post stuff that's not as controversial, people don't have as much to say."
Brandt Snedeker was a Twitter skeptic. He only enlisted after losing a bet with PGA Tour social-media coordinator Lauren Teague, joking that if he won at Pebble Beach he would sign on. The win came in 2013, and Snedeker now uses Twitter to interact with fans, give props to sponsors, or for fun things like offering free golf lessons to James Franklin, football coach at Snedeker's alma mater Vanderbilt, as long as he stayed on the job. (Franklin left for Penn State.)
Snedeker is another who has adopted Twitter as a news source, second only to his hometown newspaper on his morning reading list. While Snedeker says he might break news on Twitter now and then, he does not see a day when players turn to social media in lieu of post-round sessions with reporters. "It's amazing how fast it's gone the last five years, but I can't see it going that way," he says. "I still think there will always be a need for face-to-face interaction. I certainly wouldn't resort to that."
On-site tournament interaction is the next area of growth. The PGA Tour crushes the LPGA in followers (566,109 to 56,615), but the women's tour is innovating in ways that have gotten the attention of the sports world. With an emphasis on players doing the messaging work in their own voice over the tour's official account, the LPGA has an array of well-coordinated initiatives.
For example, the Friday before a tournament, the tour sends out information to players on the upcoming week's sponsor, tournament initiatives and appropriate "hashtags" that will turn up in Twitter searches. There are "Twitter takeovers" on Golf Channel telecasts where a player answers fan questions while sitting in the broadcast booth. The LPGA has also contracted with the cutting-edge firm Digital Royalty to enhance content going out on its streams in the form of "social stunts" and to better coordinate the tricky week-to-week dynamics of different sponsors with different social-media views. And, most of all, the LPGA has made sure that players' Twitter handles are on pairing sheets and caddie bibs. It has even painted the searchable hashtags on tournament turfgrass. Fans can now tweet on-site at LPGA events and see their comments or images appear on an 18th-hole tournament video board, something that probably won't happen on the more conservative PGA Tour. "We're comfortable being uncomfortable and showing some skin," says LPGA social media director Tina Barnes-Budd.
The LPGA strategies gelled when Paula Creamer recently sank a 75-foot eagle putt to win the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore. Since video wasn't yet available online, three accounts coordinated by the LPGA sent out a sequence of images featuring Creamer's epic reaction. By going viral, the putt aired on national newscasts -- which normally would not have shown an LPGA highlight.
While all of the major golf bodies are on the Twitter bandwagon, the Masters account's paltry number of tweets is conspicuous considering the club's propensity to break barriers in certain Internet categories. The club's Twitter-lite stance will perhaps soften in 2014 and beyond, depending on how this year's tournament plays out on social media. But considering Twitter's place in the sports pantheon, expect this year's Masters to be more talked about on Twitter than ever before, regardless of how much the event's official account tweets.
"It's a great tool," says Graeme McDowell, another player whose image has been enhanced by tweeting, but who lamented losing his "Twitter mojo" of late after going through the same phases many players experienced. "It's a great way to interact with fans and give them something they don't normally get from the TV screens. It's just the way the world is going."
And that, in a nutshell, is why Twitter is here to stay.