Why golfers should never have to take s**t from haters or anyone else

Jordan Spieth Ian Poulter
Source: @JordanSpieth and @IanJamesPoulter/Twitter

It’s always tempting to go after someone who is maligning your character, but we’re generally advised to just let it go. This is especially true when you’re a figure in the public eye with a reputation to maintain. However, headlines lasy week have proven that tempers can always flare up even on the genteel golf course. Two rather high-profile golfers decided to teach some harsh critics a lesson and boy, did tempers flare white hot.

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One was regretful for his outburst and the other took it to new extremes by getting his heckler fired from work. Their markedly different attitudes towards their handling of the situation show that the attitude towards biting back against detractors remains conflicted. Does one protect their dignity by defending themselves or give it away? We think they are both wrong in totally different ways. Nobody should ever have to apologize for standing up for themselves, but neither should anyone use that as an excuse to throw their weight around.

Did they start drama?

Jordan Spieth licks lips

When Jordan Spieth makes it to the news for any reason, the golf world erupts in a frenzy. When he’s embroiled in the odd controversy, well, you can imagine the furor. The world’s best golf player has been on a bit of a downswing of late and an Instagram troll saw fit to give him some hell over it. The following flame war ensued.

To sum it up, Jordan Spieth responded to someone who said he was garbage by calling a troll a troll. This smackdown is uncharacteristic of the normally composed Spieth, so we can only imagine that his nerves must have been very frazzled by his recent losses for him to given in to the impulse to lash out. Not that he’s seriously turned anyone against him in the process, but he’s expressed a ton of regret for his hastiness.

“You’ll probably never see me do that again because obviously it was seen and known and – just really frustrating. There’s not really a point. I should never respond to any of that, just let it go and by the time the next tournament rolls around no one even remembers it anyways.”

It’s interesting to see how much of his focus is trained on how public the whole altercation was. It’s almost as though he feels like an outburst was unseemly or beneath him. We think that this is less about feeling superior to other golfers who have given in more freely to their baser impulses and more about the chinks beneath his polished veneer.

He has a face that he’s always worn well, that of the unflappable professional who weathers the tempests with consistency and good humor. He has the kind of steady temperament that the conservative golfing crowd admires and wishes to emulate, so we wouldn’t be surprised if there was an element of feeling like he was letting the fans down in a way.

Ian Poulter
Source: @IanJamesPoulter/Twitter

Ian Poulter lies on the opposite end of the spectrum. An assistant athletic director at Florida Southern College incurred his wrath by heckling him at the Valspar Championship about not making the Ryder Cup team  and then tweeting about it later. Ian Poulter responded by tagging the offending tweet and delivering a zinger of his own. The following social media skirmish ensued.

We imagine such an exchange would have twisted Spieth’s stomach, but Poulter showed no such qualms about his own behavior. Not only did he engage “JJ Downum” in mudslinging, he also went straight for the jugular by making good on his threat. Not long after the whole debacle, the university declared that the heckler was now no longer under their employ. He certainly has a very different approach to protecting his reputation. Spieth tries to be the bigger person, Poulter refuses to play the gentleman golfer and shows no mercy. His cutthroat attitude gets him what he wants, but not without costing him a little reputation-wise. Should he just have laid off and let it be?

There’s a classy way to do this

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Source: RickieFowler/Instagram

Of course, we’re going to use ever-appealing Rickie Fowler as an example of how to do this right. Despite his popularity among younger golfers, he has had to fend off the odd troll or two every so often. For instance, here’s a know-nothing on Instagram with lots of critical things to say about Rickie Fowler’s “flat” swing.

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Fowler wasn’t about to let that crack go without reminding the hater of his place in the grand scheme of things.

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We think user sawyergolf said it best.

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We thought that that was the perfect way to deal with it. He put the troll soundly in his place without crossing any lines and he’s not apologizing for it. This has in no way negatively impacted his career or his image. Instead, his snappy comeback spawned a host of articles cheering him on for “shutting down a hater” and we feel this is exactly as we should be.

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Public figures are often pilloried for behaving like normal human beings where anyone can see and as a result, they often feel the need to come across as above such petty things as standing up for yourself. Fowler shows us it’s totally possible for a big name to be assertive in a way that wins people over even more. Like Fowler, Jordan Spieth was fierce in a very appropriate manner and he had nothing to apologize for. People may never see him quite the same way as they did before, but we think that responding to an ignorant critic might actually gain him more respect from his loyal fans. After all, who doesn’t love a superstar with a backbone and relatable human moments?

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Source: @McIlroyRory/Twitter

Of course, there is still a line to cross. Anyone who wields their fame as a weapon is always going to come across as ugly no matter who started what and Ian Poulter is no exception. It’s clear to us that who he was made a big difference in how swiftly his nemesis was disposed of. It may have worked out in his favor in the short term, but it’s gained him a fair amount of criticism over the past week.

Golf Digest has criticized him for being an overgrown “tattletale”  and the Big Lead has heavily implied that the golfer can be rather too thin-skinned about the Ryder Cup and a “thorn in the American team’s side”. No one wants to be known as an overly sensitive whiner who bullies others into compliance and this is exactly how Poulter’s overkill reaction has skewed public opinion towards him.

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To conclude with, we give you yet another high-profile golfer who masterfully handled a critic who was a tad less anonymous than most. Brandel Chamblee had some disparaging things to say about Rory McIlroy’s workout schedule, expressing that it would lead him down Tiger Woods’ path of destruction. McIlroy’s cheeky response was this workout video.

Sometimes, the only way to deal when someone is trolling you is to troll them right back. Rory McIlroy hit just the right humorous note with his attempt, telling Chamblee to mind his own business while ensuring that they’ll still be able to say hi to each other at a Christmas party. It just goes to show that polishing your spine doesn’t have to involve a dramatic confrontation, a PR disaster and and messy hurt feelings afterwards.

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In general, we wish golfers would be bolder about telling haters to shove it, within reason. They don’t need to fight every battle or go overboard in defending their good name, but the occasional sharp reminder that there are human beings beneath their glossy image is never a bad thing. It invites us as their audience to be more conscientious in how we treat our idols. Too often, we forget that they have issues, lives and bad days of their own and cannot always be expected to perform upon demand. It also makes them good role models for those of us who might be overly conscious about how we appear to others and way too critical about ourselves. Even celebrities can’t please everyone and must sometimes be prepared to put people in their place.

However, one way to turn public opinion against you is to play the “Do you know who I am?” card. We’re looking at you, Ian Poulter.

Ian Poulter celebration