Thanks to Twitter, pros are more connected than ever — that’s not always a good thing

And another thing...
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During a Golf Channel telecast at the PGA Championship in August, I was asked if I thought Ian Poulter’s incessant tweeting affected his golf. The question implied that I agreed he tweeted incessantly, which I didn’t, or more accurately, which I couldn’t fairly assess, because I didn’t follow Poulter on Twitter (and still don’t). So I dodged the question and discussed his game.

As often happens when players get word of on-air remarks, Poulter apparently heard a complete misrepresentation of what was said and by whom. Believing that I had criticized his Twitter habits, he retaliated by ripping me on, you guessed it, Twitter. 
 Ian alleged that I was unqualified to analyze golf. With plenty of characters to spare, he added that I was boring.

Ordinarily I don’t engage in Twitter spats, unless the tone of a critic’s tweet is rational and I’m curious about the premise of the contempt. Poulter, though, having been “unqualified” for both the 2008 and 2012 Ryder Cups (he required a captain’s pick to make both teams) spoke from experience. So I gave his insult some consideration.

I was tempted to remind Poulter that his Ryder Cup captains and my bosses didn’t mind that we were unqualified, and that had worked out just fine for both of us. I also considered pointing out that, as one of the Tour’s poorest ballstrikers, he was unqualified to judge my ability to analyze ballstriking, or any other facet of the game. But I thought that might be…boring. So I scrolled past the taunt with a flick of my finger.

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Twitter is a colliding world of facts and fiction, humor and rancor, lucidness and lewdness. It is history’s greatest aggregator of news and gossip, and the biggest time drain since Chevy Chase’s talk show. Fueled by users emboldened by both its staggering reach and the anonymity it can provide, Twitter can also be toxic. And golfers are not immune to contributing to that climate.

Steve Elkington, for example, is desperately trying to cling to relevance from the social media cheap seats. An active Twitterer, Elkington last summer added to his deep catalog of caustic tweets when he used a derogatory term for an ethnic group. (He later apologized.) To prevent further such invidious and vapid remarks, Elk should apply some Spackle to his synapses to settle the tremors in his fingers.

After last year’s PGA Championship, Lee Westwood engaged social media morons who slammed him for falling short in another major. (Westwood, too, later apologized.) LPGA star Stacy Lewis, after she lost to home-country favorite Shanshan Feng in an event in China in October, turned to Twitter to grouse about the partisan galleries. A tidal wave of spewing trolls took her to task, leading Lewis to shutter her Twitter account.

Jeff Overton whined on Twitter about being an alternate at the 2013 PGA after having qualified for the Ryder Cup—three years earlier. Chris Blanks announced to his followers that a missed cut meant an “amorous” weekend with his wife. (TMI, Chris!) Luke Donald, on a far less offensive but no less regrettable note, accidentally tweeted his cell-phone number.

The lesson here for Tour pros: Learning how to occupy downtime without a corrupting vice—Twitter included—is as important as learning how to chip and putt.

Of course, plenty of players have harnessed the positive powers of Twitter. Guys like Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley, through lively and good-natured tweeting, have bolstered their brands more than any publicist could—without giving in to the defensive impulse to answer idiots who goad them.

For all its glamor, the Tour can be a lonely place, and I know firsthand that the hours the players—and commentators—spend tweeting offer a welcome distraction in locker rooms, airports and hotel rooms. But I often wonder, is it worth trading loneliness for agitation?

Maybe I should pose the question on Twitter.