This week's Joy of Golf column looks at the impact of social media on the sport.
In what is definitely a first for golf, the ShopRite LPGA Classic has announced it will give one sponsors’ exemption spot to one of four players who secures the highest number of votes in a Twitter poll.
The four players – identified by MVP Index, a sports social media tracking company founded by the father of Jordan Spieth, Shawn – are India’s Sharmila Nicollet, Scotland’s Carly Booth, American Blair O’Neal and Bolivian Susana Benavides. Nicollet, who played on the Ladies European Tour (LET) and now has a conditional status, has fallen off the Rolex Rankings, while Booth, a two-time winner on LET, is ranked 365th.
O’Neal, who played the Dubai Ladies Masters last year, is also not ranked but plays on the Symetra Tour, and Benavides is 1245th in the world. But what makes them attractive for the tournament is the kind of social media following they have.
Nicollet has 357,000 followers on Twitter, apparently second only to LPGA Tour star Paula Creamer (426,000) and way more than world No1 Lydia Ko (57,600), and over 109,000 on Instagram.
Booth has 35,600 on Twitter and 62,500 on Instagram. O’Neal, a Golf Channel host and winner of the ‘Big Break’ reality show, has 77,500 Twitter followers and 187,000 on Instagram. Benavides has only 7,200 on Twitter and 20,900 on Instagram.
The move has been met with plenty of enthusiasm, as well as scorn. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has endorsed Booth (33 per cent), and she has made a flying start in the poll that started a couple of days ago and is open until Sunday night.
Nicollet (22 per cent) has received support from Indian cricket star Yuvraj Singh and renowned commentator Harsha Bhogle, and is fast making ground. But leading right now with 38 per cent votes is O’Neal, a local favourite.
There are others who fail to see why much more deserving and accomplished candidates should be denied a chance. My take on the issue is that as long as the spot is coming out of the sponsor’s quota, the serious golf fans should not have any grouse.
They are the ones who are paying the big bucks to make a tournament happen, and they are free to use any kind of promotion to get a better return on their investment.
And given the increasing popularity of social media, this is one way of creating some buzz around the tournament, and also, hopefully get a few more millennials involved.
ANOTHER GOOD MOVE
Just a few days after limiting the use of video evidence in imposing penalty on players, the golf’s governing bodies have announced that they will soon be cracking down on the detailed yardage books, the modern day version of which maps the entire green to its minutest details.
In a statement issued a couple of days ago, the governing bodies said they will be reviewing such materials and decide whether any action needs to be taken.
The statement read: “A player’s ability to read greens is an essential part of the skill of putting. Rule 14-3 limits the use of equipment and devices that might assist a player in their play, based on the principle that golf is a challenging game in which success should depend on the judgement, skills and abilities of the player. “We are concerned about the rapid development of increasingly detailed materials that players are using to help with reading greens during a round” continued the statement. “We are reviewing the use of these materials to assess whether any actions need to be taken to protect this important part of the game. We expect to address this matter further in the coming months.”
Several players have been critical of the detailed yardage books, which are designed to give the golfers an exact idea of distance from various parts of the golf course.
Ian Poulter has been most vocal on the issue, his main point of contention being that so much time was being spent reading the books, it was slowing down the pace of play.
However, the previous announcements on the proposed changes to the Rules of Golf also mentioned the possibility of legalising Distance Measuring Devices, like Bushnell, on the Tours. If they are allowed starting 2019, it will cut down on the time taken between shots.
There are still many golfers and caddies who pace the distance to get an accurate yardage.
The younger of the Koepka brothers, Chase does not have a status on the PGA Tour, but by finishing inside the top-10 with big bro Brooks in the Zurich Classic, he gets into this week’s Wells Fargo Championship.
It was a smart move by the Koepkas and the 59 FedEx Cup points earned could help him skip the Qualifying School and qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals.
Sometimes, golf just does not matter. The two-time PGA Tour winner pulled out of the Zurich Classic last week after discovering that his 13-year-old son, Jacob, has a brain tumour.
The Australian said he has no timeframe for his return to the golf course. All we can say is that our prayers are with Jacob and the family and we hope he gets well soon.
WHAT’S IN THE BAG
Winner, Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees)
3 Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees)
Irons: Titleist 716 T-MB (3-9)
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM6 (46-, 52-, 56- and 60-degres)
Putter: Scotty Cameron 009M Prototype
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
THIS WEEK’S EVENTS
Wells Fargo Championship Course: Eagle Point Golf Club Wilmington, North Carolina
Purse: $7.5 million
Defending champ: James Hahn
Centurion Golf Club
St Albans, England
Purse: £1 million
Defending champ: New event