ORLANDO – “Imagine if more guys from the PGA tour opened up on social media,” Grayson Murray tweeted on March 2. “Golf would gain popularity, not be losing it.”
Murray takes a no-holds-barred approach on Twitter, mixing it up with condescending fans and calling out Bryson DeChambeau for withdrawing from the Genesis Open when he was playing on a sponsor’s invite.
Some will discount the messages because Murray has missed eight of 11 cuts during his rookie season, but his opinion that pros should be more outgoing on social media and put their personality on display in other ways holds water for several of his peers. And it’s a timely take at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, named after perhaps the biggest personality in golf history who had the ability to connect with fans in ways no one else could.
“When you look at the PGA Tour when it first started in the Arnold Palmer era, you had a character in Arnold Palmer,” said Billy Horschel, who tweeted that he was disappointed with players who chose not to tee it up this week in honor of Arnie. “You had a character in Gary Player. Obviously Jack (Nicklaus) was quiet and reserved, but he was still great. You had Lee Trevino, you had all these guys, Chi Chi Rodriguez. The personality thing was so great and people respected that. Somewhere along the way that changed a little bit, and people didn’t respect when someone was showing their personality.”
The problem, some guys say, is that they lose control of the message even when it comes directly from their social media accounts. Take PGA Tour Pro Max Homa, one of the funniest players on Twitter who has over 11,500 followers despite missing every cut this season. Homa tweeted a few jokes about Tiger Woods during the 2015 Phoenix Open, where Woods missed the cut after a second-round 82.
One example: “Taken 5: Liam Neeson rescues Tiger’s golf game.”
“I am the biggest Tiger Woods fan you could imagine,” Homa said. “I love the dude. I’ve looked up to him since I was a little kid. I love him. I know everything about him.”
He went to bed after tweeting the Woods jokes and woke up the next morning to “a whole bunch of messages,” including one from his mom telling him to turn on the Golf Channel.
“Morning Drive is on and they’re talking about how my tweet is highly disrespectful and it shows how the young guys don’t appreciate or aren’t scared of Tiger anymore,” Homa said. “It was comical to me because that’s not it at all. I could not be further from that guy, especially when it comes to Tiger.”
It’s hard for Homa to wrap his head around because he admits he is on “the lowest of the low scales” in terms of clout on Tour. He enjoys doing interviews for now and talking honestly and openly about himself. Based on what he’s seen from other players and stories he’s read that he thought were unfair, Homa says that would change if he starts playing better.
“I think the stigma of golf is that it’s highly gentlemanly and no one ever says anything wrong and no one ever swears and no one ever drinks a beer and everyone’s perfectly straight edge,” Homa said. “It puts people on this crazy pedestal that they could never live up to, so they become robots. … It’s a weird revolving door, you can’t win. So of course I’m going to give the most bland answer I possibly can at all times. If I win a tournament or lose a tournament and you can either give the cliché (answer) or the one you actually feel in your heart, I’m giving the cliché because it’s not worth it.”
That approach makes sense in team sports, where one person’s words or actions have an impact on as many as 100 teammates on a college football squad. Golfers don’t answer to teammates and their coaches aren’t public figures. Unless the Tour takes serious issue with a comment or a Tweet, missing out on sponsorship opportunities is the only tangible repercussion.
It’s a tough balancing act – putting your personal life out there without saying something offensive. Six-time winner and 2009 British Open champ Stewart Cink, who shot 2-under 70 and sat T-8 after Thursday’s first round, has handled it better than most.
He was one of the first players to gain popularity on Twitter after realizing that, outside of a handful of players, it was impossible for fans watching from home to get any sense of individual personalities.
“I felt like I was missing out on an opportunity to make a good connection with some of my fans,” Cink said. “When I started on Twitter, the way my son described it is, ‘It’s kind of a bare-bones Facebook and you might end up with 500 new fans you didn’t know about.’ I’m like, ‘500 new fans that are in my corner? I’m going for it!’ I ended up with one million. One million (followers). I thought that was pretty neat.”
Horschel gained early prominence with his play as a three-time winner. He grew in popularity thanks to his flashy clothes and outgoing nature. At the 2015 U.S. Open, he said he “lost a little respect for the USGA” due to the conditions of the greens at Chambers Bay, and a video of his zig-zagging hand motion following a missed putt went viral.
— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) June 21, 2015
“That’s just being me, doing something stupid,” said Horschel, who apologized and called his behavior that week unacceptable but won’t stop being who he is. “I think it only helps grow the game when you see the personalities of the game. … (Fans) don’t want to see robots on the golf course. They want to see the guy just like everyone else is at home, throwing clubs, and they’re all cussing. I think they want to see some personalities from players.”
As for the backlash from fans and media when things go too far or players say something they didn’t mean? That comes with the territory.
“If you’re out there playing on the PGA Tour, it’s the biggest stage in the world of golf and you need to kind of put on your big boy boxers and be willing to take a lot of that,” Cink said.