Boring? Golfers? Just listen to Ian Poulter and co as they tweet away

Boring? Golfers? Just listen to Ian Poulter and co as they tweet awayIn the broad sweep of golf's history, the advent of Twitter might not seem like a big deal but in the 140-character outpourings of the game's biggest names it is possible to detect a revolution.

Take this tweet written yesterday by Ian Poulter – ostensibly to Lee Westwood, although in fact it was sent to the 1,061,363 people who follow the Englishman's Twitter: @WestwoodLee. "Tiger called across the putting green today & said don't you know how to mark ur ball, I said settle down No2 to *(sic)* funny*"

In another media age – as long ago as, say, 2009 – an imaginative hack with space to fill would have mined at least a couple of stories out of the information contained in those 107 characters: first, "Tiger Woods taunts Ian Poulter over the rules fiasco"; and, second, "Poulter puts Woods in his place – 'You're an also-ran'."

You could say the same about Rory McIlroy's tweet less than an hour after Poulter accidentally moved his ball marker on the final green of the Dubai World Championship: "Poults may not have won the Dubai World Championship, but he could be in with a shout for tiddlywinks world championship!"

"McIlroy mocks Ryder Cup pal!"

Or Lee Westwood's contribution on the same subject: "What was the difference between 3rd and 4th in the bonus pool poults??????"

This was reference to the $7.5m (£4.8m) bonus pool divided between the top players at the end of the Race to Dubai. Westwood finished third, Poulter fourth. If by any chance Poulter had won the Dubai World Championship on Sunday, he would have finished third, and Westwood would have finished fourth. The difference in bonus pool money?

"$150,000,'' according to @Ianjamespoulter.

Some people might object to such casual flaunting of wealth in public. But railing against it is like railing against professional sport itself. The fact is sponsors are willing to pay the money. What are the likes of Westwood, McIlroy and Poulter to do – turn it down? And if they don't turn the money down, what are they supposed to do – keep it a secret?

Well, they could try. But they would fail and, more importantly, they would be retreating into habits that have bedeviled professional golf in recent years; blandness; an unwillingness to engage with the audience; and a refusal to meet the demand of the 21st century consumer for more information.

Add together those failings and you end up with the sweeping assessment that professional golf lacks "personalities", a criticism so ubiquitous these days that it goes virtually unchallenged, even though it is no more (or less) true of golf than of, say, football.

The beauty of Twitter is that it gives the likes of Poulter and Westwood a unique opportunity to counter the received wisdom – unique, because they are perceived as being more boring than other sportsman and are, therefore, operating from a lower base of expectation.

Still, some general rules of social networking still apply, not least that a professional golfer has to give if he wants to receive. Even Tiger Woods, perhaps the least giving athlete in the history of sport, understands this. He wants to receive the public's forgiveness (and the sponsors' dollars) and in return he is prepared to give, although on the evidence of his nascent Twitter efforts he isn't prepared to give that much.

But the beauty of social media experiments like @tigerwoods is that you can learn as much, or even more, by what the athlete doesn't say. "I think I like this Twitter thing,'' Woods typed on day one. He liked it so much he published two more tweets in 11 days, suggesting either (a) he was extremely busy and didn't have time to tweet or (b) his initial statement that he "liked" Twitter was possibly insincere and part of a co-ordinated campaign put together by a $500-an-hour media consultant.

Personally, I'll go for (b).

The good news is that Woods jumped back on-line the other day and published 20-odd tweets. The bad news is that he had nothing interesting or insightful to say for himself. Already the experiment looks doomed, which comes as no surprise to those who have witnessed Woods's fetish for privacy through the years.

Likewise, those who had come across Ian Poulter through the years knew that @ianjamespoulter had a strong chance of success, not least because there was a guilelessness about its author that would serve him well in his interaction with the public. Poulter is living the dream, and he doesn't mind sharing it. The private jets, the first-class travel, the dozens of pairs of golf shoes he keeps in his garage – he has got the lot, has worked hard for it and he doesn't see why he should hide it.

Needless to say, Poulter's style isn't for everyone but even those who can't abide his love for Arsenal and plaid trousers would surely appreciate having their prejudices confirmed by the man himself, albeit inadvertently. As for those who have a sneaking respect for the Englishman or who would just like some insight into the life of a professional golfer, @ianjamespoulter is a godsend.

Poulter is golf's undoubted Twitter star but there are others. The bland American pro Stewart Cink (@stewartcink) is marginally more appealing on-line, as is his Ryder Cup colleague Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) , who had the sheer number of tweets (30,000 and counting) has revealed himself to be something of a cartoon character, a cross between Mr Magoo and Road Runner.

Of the Europeans, Graeme McDowell (@Graeme_Mcdowell) is possibly too smart and too knowing to give too much away, Rory McIlroy (@mcilroyrory) is just too young and Robert Karlsson (@robertkarlsson) is too literal. "Finished tied fourth in Japan. Have now arrived to (sic) Dubai." Thanks Robert, but no thanks.

My own personal favourite is the former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson (@Oliver_Wilson), who has a terrific sense of humour, which he directs mostly at himself. Lee Westwood (@Westwoodlee) is another who fancies himself as a comedian and he might have a point.

After spending first four days of his twitter-life taking the mickey out of Poulter, the world No1 was last heard from in South Africa, where he was trying – and failing – to get a response from @tigerwoods. "Tiger's blanking me,'' Westwood complained.

Welcome to the club, Lee.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Lawrence Donegan, for guardian.co.uk on Thursday 2nd December 2010 11.04 Europe/London

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