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Are Social Media Feuds the Future of Professional Golf?

The phrase “all publicity is good publicity” is not universally true. Let’s say we learned tomorrow that a professional golfer was caught on camera stealing food from an orphanage. There’s no silver lining there, no material benefit to the fact that this player’s name was being mentioned often on digital platforms. It would be comprehensively b-a-d bad. To give a real-world example, if you’re Scott Piercy and you post an offensive meme on Instagram, you lose your sponsors and 14 months later you’re snapping a putter over your knee. Some publicity is bad publicity.
 
That said, a statement doesn’t have to be true 100 percent of the time in order to be mostly right. Which brings us to Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. Humor me while I tell you something you almost certainly already know: Leaked footage from an aborted Golf Channel video showed Koepka expressing clear annoyance at DeChambeau, which quickly spiraled into a Twitter feud that involved Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. In a sport where bad relationships and negative storylines are routinely squelched, and where even players who don’t like each other tend to circle the wagons publicly, this was a remarkably overt display of hostility. Clearly, Koepka’s disdain for DeChambeau had reached such a degree that he no longer cares about decorum.
 
Who fared worst? Opinions run the gamut, but what’s clear is that this generated a whole heap of attention. Koepka’s video had 10 million views on Twitter in a little more than a day before it was taken down. The subsequent drama has lit up social media and driven heaps of content across the golf web, including this piece. It made the home page of ESPN.com, no small feat for a golf story that doesn’t involve a major championship or Tiger Woods. Mickelson’s PGA Championship win at Kiawah is still the biggest story of the week … right? But even though I originally thought this would be one of those Twitter echo chamber stories, the Koepka-DeChambeau feud has obviously broken through to the mainstream and challenged one of the most historic victories in 150 years of major championship golf for media supremacy.
 
At the risk of sounding ancient, this is very much a sign of the times. And I fully admit to being as fascinated as everyone else, which makes me complicit in whatever is happening here. And it makes me wonder: Are we in for a lot more of this, in golf and beyond?
 
The mind begins to reel, because while this kind of attention would be classified as “negative”—it stems from antipathy and continues to be fueled after the initial act by digital insults—we also have to reckon with the idea that in terms of exposure and name recognition and the dreaded #brand, this has been an emphatic net positive for both players. You may personally think less of one or both of them, but I can guarantee you their agents are happy. These were already two of the most famous golfers in the world, but today, more people know their names than ever before. And even if you already knew them, you likely care more—your opinions are stronger, your sense of their personalities is more acute and your desire to see them face off in a tournament, against each other or anyone else, is heightened.
 
In the broadest, crassest sense, this means they can make more money.
 
Seriously, it’s that simple. It doesn’t take a genius to imagine all the ways this feud can be parlayed into additional opportunities, from commercials to exhibitions to media appearances, and you can bet their respective PR teams—who are geniuses, at least in a limited way—are just waiting to get to work. Drama and hullabaloo like this is also good for the sport, in that it creates interest. And that interest it generates trickles down to other entities, including other players. The PGA Tour usually doesn’t lean into controversy, so it will be interesting to see if there’s any kind of institutional pushback here. It might be wise, however, not to do anything.
 
I’m not a conspiracy-minded person, and believe me when I tell you I’m not endorsing what I say next, but indulge me in a hypothetical: Imagine these two players wanted to increase their already high profiles by crafting a storyline. If this whole feud had been planned all along, could they have executed it any better? Could they have more thoroughly seized the news cycle, or fed more brilliantly into the churning content machines of media and social media? Professional wrestling learned this lesson decades ago: If you want attention, drum up conflict.
 
 
By Shane Ryan on GolfDigest.com

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