Social Media Trolls Now Just Cost of Doing Business on Tour

After a sinus infection forced Billy Horschel to withdraw halfway through the first round of the Dell Technologies Championship, it didn’t take long for the pains in a different orifice to surface.

“Seriously? You walk off the course like a spoiled (expletive) and rather than apologize you blame it on a sinus infection? ‘Billy Ho’ just took on a whole new meaning,” offered one Tweeter.

Horschel took the bait. “I feel bad for this guy,” he replied. “Hopefully his life improves.”

His unchastened correspondent responded by calling Horschel a club-throwing prima donna devoid of integrity.

“You’re a role model, act like it,” he concluded with a flourish of head-scratching hypocrisy that you just can’t teach.

In the social media ecosystem, one troll begets another. Horschel was snidely told to enjoy watching the next playoff event from his couch, a dullard’s wisecrack that proved only how ineffective all those FedEx Cup points updates are (Horschel was 14th going to Boston and is almost certain to reach the Tour Championship).

To that add complaints about Horschel having ruined fantasy lineups, which if nothing else offered a prelude of what ailing pros can expect when legal sports bettors have dollars riding on their scores.

And all because the man was guilty of having a sinus infection.

Just another day in the life of a PGA Tour player, taking incoming fire from keyboard commandos who, in the words of my late friend Christopher Hitchens, “should have been out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign, and selling pencils from a cup.”

“Sometimes it’s very difficult to ignore a comment that you see on your timeline. Perhaps it’s of a personal nature or is so distasteful you see red and have to comment,” Graeme McDowell said.

The Northern Irishman is among the Tour’s more congenial members, but that provides no immunity from the bellicose chumps who provide social media with most of its heat and none of its illumination.

“I try to just highlight these individuals for what they are by naming and shaming, with a quick piece of rhetoric to put them in their place, followed quickly by the old block button,” McDowell explained.

“It’s the nature of the beast, unfortunately. When you play great you get thousands of positive notes, and when you play badly you will have negativity and sometimes hate. Some of the more divisive players on the Tour have a huge amount of this to deal with, and handle it in their own ways.”

Some have retreated in all but name. Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth once frequently engaged fans on Twitter, but eventually the stench drove them off, leaving accounts that have largely become corporate and soulless, exhibiting none of the personality of their owners.

Phil Mickelson decided to finally join Twitter two weeks ago. His ‘hello’ Tweet drew cracks about insider trading, rules missteps, major near misses and even a threat of violence. It was a harsh introduction to the lifeblood of social media, a toxic (if now presidential) blend of ignorance, prejudice and bile.

Welcome to the cesspool, Phil. Mind the bacteria!

Not every Tour pro who takes a social thrashing is being treated unfairly, of course.

Exhibit A: Patrick Reed.

The Masters champion needed to trade his green jacket for a flak jacket last week after a caustic social media post bemoaning the location of the (free) seats provided his family at Fenway. It was tone-deaf truculence that warranted the derision it received.

Horschel’s sinuses? Not so much. But both are sustenance to all-you-can-eat trolls in the depths of social media.

Like McDowell, Brandel Chamblee sees the “block” button as an essential tool of his trade. The Golf Channel analyst likens social media to his living room: You’re welcome for civil debate, but if you start breaking plates then you’re going to be escorted out. Despite reports that Chamblee has blocked more than 20,000 people on Twitter, the actual number he has banished as of last weekend was 4,007.

Horschel, McDowell and Chamblee know well the positive power of social media – the friendships born, the insight gleaned, the noble causes promoted – and how to harness it. But McDowell cautions that for many players the terms of engagement remain hostage to an ugly, persistent minority.

“Bottom line,” he said, “if you are thin skinned, have a particularly fragile glass house or spend all day trying to fight these trolls off, social media might not be for you.”

Golfweek, Sept. 3, 2018.


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