This Masters Tradition (Like No Other) Should Not Be Broken

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After a long day at work, I came home today and turned on my old friend, ESPN. I was instantly drawn in – not by the overdone highlights or talking heads – but by a well-produced special on the 25th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus’ Masters gem.

Son Jackie, who was on the bag that memorable Sunday, narrated the well-produced piece. I was taken back to that warm, sunny day in 1986 when I watched the tournament with my Dad. Jack shocked the sports world – and hooked me on the Masters – and golf – forever.

I tweeted about the ESPN program, which got me thinking about the PGA’s recent effort to make the game more fan-friendly by allowing cell phones on the course and embracing social media. It was a good move and a bit overdue, especially since fans have been tuning out the game for a variety of reasons. TV ratings dropped by a third at golf’s most recent major championship – last year’s PGA Champisonship.

I also thought how amazing the experience would have been at Augusta National in 1986, with the ability to take photos on the course and share them with friends, family and the world. What a memory.

Then I realized how awful that would be, actually. And I was suddenly glad for old traditions and stuffy rules. I wouldn’t want the Masters experience spoiled by thousands of cell phones and millions of tweets from fans, when actually you’re not a fan when attending the Masters. You’re a Patron. And Patrons must live up to a certain standard. They should follow tradition.

Yep, this social media nut, who loves to harp on teams and leagues and players about how bad they are at embracing this new medium, is completely turned off by the thought of a social media-infused Augusta National.

Some traditions are meant to be kept, and the “tradition like no other” fits into this rare category of exception. As incredible as it would be to tweet to the world shots of Tiger or Phil teeing off from No. 16 (my favorite hole at Augusta), I’m glad it’s not possible today. I hope it stays this way for generations to come.

“The Masters is about a certain formality and rigidity that is missing in most of our lives,” famed Masters announcer Verne Lundquist told Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times. “People crave that sort of thing.”

Plaschke punctuated the thought with his own argument for tradition:

You might think that the sophisticated American sports fan would grow bored of this, but it’s quite the opposite. We embrace this. We hunger for this. The Masters remains one of America’s most beloved sporting events perhaps because it is everything we used to be, reflecting a simpler type of sporting culture that will never exist again.

You can get your fill of the Masters by watching TV (especially if you’re a DirecTV customer). Or try the Masters website. And socially, plug into some of the active tour players, who are already posting some great content from this Georgia gem.

But keep the Masters as it is today. As it was 25 years ago. And 50 years ago. Social media will survive. But the Masters wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for tradition.

Thanks for being a fan.

Pro Athletes Tweet About Politics At Their Own Risk

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Democracy in action: Protestors at the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.

The political situation unfolding in Wisconsin is a powder keg of emotions, and I’m trying not to be swept up by it all.

Friends, family and co-workers will tell you, my calm demeanor is one of my finest assets. I wouldn’t have survived my years in a TV newsroom or as a magazine editor without a thick skin and calming presence.

But certain things hit close to home, strike nerves and get me to break my vow to seldom talk politics on Facebook and Twitter. As a former public employee in my home state of Iowa, I feel for what’s happening to neighbors in my adopted state of Wisconsin. I’ve been there when budgets were cut. I’ve felt their pain. This is deeply personal.

For pro atheletes, that’s a little harder sell. 

Jumping into this – or any – political fight is risky business to say the least. It’s easier – and perhaps wiser – to stay out of it. Opinions are fine, but when pro athletes voice them publicly – especially on Twitter or Facebook – it’s a whole different animal.

Green Bay Packers defensive star Charles Woodson was one of the few to take sides in the debate between Wisconsin’s public-sector unions and its newly-elected Republican governor, Scott Walker. Woodson has sided with the unions, which is not a surprise, given his kinship with Wisconsinites. He might also be banking some goodwill when debate shifts to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement.

What was surprising was Floridian Paul Azinger’s snarky tweets about the Wisconsin budget battle. I’m a casual Azinger fan when he’s on the golf course. I admired his recovery from cancer and his Ryder Cup leadership. He seems like a nice guy.

I know now that I don’t want to hear what he has to say about politics in Wisconsin. At all. Ever. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk summed it up perfectly:

“When we want a fix of politics, we each know where to find it. When we want to get away from that crap (and, in many cases, it is indeed crap), we turn to sports.”

Recently, I challenged Tiger Woods to step up his Twitter game. But it was to talk a lot more about golf, life and the challenges of his comeback. I want the volume to increase, but I don’t want to hear what Tiger has to say about health care or the deficit.

Mr. Azinger is entitled to his opinion. He’s free to share it on Twitter or Facebook or wherever. I simply contend he is wrong, mostly because he lacks perspective: He doesn’t live in Wisconsin. He’s never been a public employee. 

I let him know so on Twitter:

A zinger for Azinger.

We actually had some interesting back-and-forth in subsequent tweets, and Mr. Azinger even DM’d me a couple times. (If he would only follow me back, I could respond there, too … wink-wink, Zinger.) I commend him for engaging fans (and non-fans).

I don’t deny his right to share his views on this issue. I’d just rather hear his views on Tiger Woods. Or the whacky world golf rankings. Or even pimp his new GolfPlan app. I’m getting that from his stream, too, which is why I’m still following him.

For now.

Sure, I could get nasty and talk specifically about Mr. Azinger’s politics, the current state of his golf career or his personal life. There’s no need for that. I simply believe he’s wrong about what’s happening in Wisconsin, and that as a professional athlete, tweeting about it repeatedly is probably not what his fans want to see.

Quite simply, he has a lot more to risk with those opinions than I do.

Thanks for being a fan.

Tiger’s Twitter Game as Disappointing as His Golf Game

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Tiger Woods needs more than help hitting fairways and greens, he needs help hitting the mark on Twitter.

The best athletes are built for competition. They want to excel – at everything.

Tiger Woods used to be that athlete. But his very public personal missteps, coupled with his failing golf game, have taken him from that pinnacle.

Nearly a year removed from a bizarre car crash, prolonged injury and eventual divorce, Tiger has been on the road to repairing his public image, along with his un-Tiger-like golf game. I expected him to recover fully and forge a huge comeback. 

He has not. Not yet, anyway.

Tiger’s return – the reputation-rebuilding part – included his supposed embrace of Twitter, which began in earnest late last year. Unfortunately, it’s been more like a limp handshake than an embrace. Much like his unimpressive golf game, Tiger’s swing at social media has left us hoping and expecting more.

I want to cheer, but I can’t even muster a golf clap.

Since resurrecting his dormant account Nov. 17, Tiger has managed just 56 tweets. An amazing score for 18 holes, but not good on the social media-meter. He’s answered a few @ replies, talked about the events in which he competed, promoted his foundation. He gained a meager 500,000 or so followers.

Blah.

Fans want those rare glimpses into an athlete’s life, and they appreciate the interaction on Twitter. But like everything with Tiger Woods, there’s a certain plasticness that stands out. There’s still a wall surrounding his every move – even on social media.

Twitter is about being authentic and approachable. Tiger is neither. It’s about reaching your fans at all times and in all places. And having those fans be able to reach you. Unless you’re Tiger, who apparently tweets from his “board room”:

Look fans - I tweet from the board room. Follow me!

I hope Tiger can get his game back. The PGA Tour needs it. I need it to make Sundays in spring and summer a little more enjoyable. But I also hope Tiger steps up his Twitter game, too. There’s no reason Tiger Woods can’t be the No. 1 golfer in the world again – and the No. 1 professional athlete on Twitter.

Thanks for being a fan.