- Ryan Corazza
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All eyes were on Tom Watson.
After Tiger missed the cut at this weekend's British Open, it was Watson's time to shine. People were rooting for him, and hard. His storyline was compelling: Watson is 59 and well past his prime, but there he was, a sixth British Open title within his grasp, the wily veteran having one last dance in the sun. But he missed that clinching putt on 18, choked in the playoff, and that was that: Stewart Cink was your winner.
It wasn't so much that we villainized Cink, but those pulling for him were in the minority. And it's a shame: Had Cink been going up against one of the big boys, his storyline would have outshined Watson's: a former Rookie of the Year in 1997, and by all accounts, an incredibly nice fellow, he had just never quite put it together for a major.
He existed somewhere in golf's purgatory: Sure, he was good, but if you're not great, if you don't win majors, it's easy to get lost among the polos and khaki pants. Cink could have walked down the street and the casual sports fan wouldn't have a clue who he was. This was Cink's existence before Sunday.
And before Twitter.
On Twitter, he's PGA Tour elite, the king of golf's social media kingdom. And his following continues to grow. At the beginning of May, Cink's follower count was around 130,000. On Sunday, after his victory, he picked up 5,004 followers in eight hours. At press time, Cink's followers hover just above 580,000. According to Twitterholic, that puts him as the 158th most-followed person on all of Twitter. For athletes, only Shaquille O'Neal, Lance Armstrong, Tony Hawk and Dwight Howard have more followers. Not bad for one of golf's non-stars.
But numbers are just numbers. What is it that makes Cink such a draw online? For one, Cink's updates are interesting. That counts for a lot. He's funny. He's a serial photographer, the latest of which have been great: witness Cink pouring a Guinness into his Claret Jug. And perhaps most importantly for those among his several thousand followers, he interacts and responds to them. Thoughtfully.
Sure, plenty of athletes on Twitter do all this. But there's a genuine aspect in Cink's tweets. While Charlie Villanueva and Chris Bosh raced to 50,000 followers and annoyingly tweeted for people to follow them along the way, Cink's intentions seem less about him, and more about us.
Golf isn't a sport that lends itself to personality; there is no swagger or flash. It's a gentleman's game. But what Twitter has done for an under-the-radar player such as Cink is connect him to fans, and let that personality we don't know about or don't see during a round of 18 shine through. He's also picking up fans who might otherwise have no interest in golf.
And this phenomenon is not unique to Cink, though he's probably its most clear-cut example. Martellus Bennett, a tight end for the Cowboys, is nowhere near the most popular NFL player (and has nowhere near the following of Cink on Twitter). But he's quickly becoming a tweeting favorite for his quirky personality and interaction with fans. Twitter has raised his relatively unknown profile and popularity on his terms and his time, just as it has for Cink.
Cink and Bennett are proving that athletes in the social media age, especially less popular ones not always on traditional channels' radar, don't need the mainstream media's help to interact with fans, show off their personality or get their name out there.
All they need is a cell phone and some time on their hands.
Twitter recruiting update
Last week, I wrote about Tom Crean following one of his top recruiting targets, Kyrie Irving, on Twitter. While my general thesis -- top-name coaches rarely hit the follow button on recruits -- still stands, I do want to point out that at least two other head coaches are following Irving, Notre Dame's Mike Brey and Texas A&M's Mark Turgeon.
Further, it seems the real trend here is for someone in the program besides the head coach to be doing the following. A look at Irving's followers reveals that guys such as Chris Collins, a Duke assistant coach, and Orlando Antigua, a Kentucky assistant coach, are on the list. Brandon Miller, an Ohio State assistant, is following several recruits as well.
So while the head dog might not be doing the actual following, you can rest assured an assistant -- who is oftentimes the lead on recruiting anyway -- is likely following.
Although Stewart Cink wasn't the sentimental favorite at the British Open, the veteran golfer had plenty of Twitter followers in his corner.