Today's Golfer columnist and LET star Meghan MacLaren admires sports stars who are honest – both with themselves and with fans.
I played a practice round recently for an event on the Symetra Tour in Florida. One of my playing partners asked the other to video one of her tee shots. There’s nothing unusual about that. When we are caddie-less, we often rely on other players for the swing videos that make up both our technical guidance and our social media feeds.
But as said playing partner’s drive took a hard dive left out of the sky, I watched with amusement as she held her finish, eyeing an alternative ball flight down the middle of the fairway. Once the video ended she turned to the other girl and laughed, commenting wryly: “Good job there’s no Shot Tracer on that one.”
I’ve probably been guilty of doing a similar thing in the past – posting a swing video on Instagram or Twitter and knowing full well that the end result of the shot definitely wouldn’t have been something worth posting. I had a spell where I would post stills from my swing when it was in what I thought was a good position, feeling too inadequate to post anything more than that for fear of my own perceived faults.
It’s a strange one, and represents something I’ve come to dislike immensely about social media, particularly as it pertains to the upper echelon of athletes: painting only the picture you want your ‘followers’ to see, regardless of how close or not that is to reality.
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In fairness, I think the past year or so has seen more athletes opening up and being more honest about their struggles, be it to do with performance, mental health or societal injustices. Personally, I think that’s a hugely powerful thing, not only for the athlete themselves, but also for youngsters putting those athletes on a pedestal. As obvious as it sounds, every athlete is a human first. Too often we forget that, but realising that even superstars are capable of failures and struggles is an important lesson – for parents, as well as for youngsters – that things do not have to be perfect all the time in order for someone to be successful.
The most obvious example of a golfer publicly acknowledging their demons is Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston. As sorry as I was to read about the battles he has faced, I think it will have (and already has had) a massive impact on others, particularly young professionals, as they navigate the inevitable ups and downs of chasing a dream.
Professional golf is a wonderful thing, and something I’m grateful for every day, but it has its dark side too. Being honest about that doesn’t make you in any way weak, or a failure, or any less grateful.
Nevertheless, there’s a flip side to being honest and authentic, especially when it relates to social media. Ironically, the same course that my recent practice round was on was also the catalyst for my first real taste of social media’s dark side. I was setting up to hit my tee shot when a group of older men started making noises on an adjacent tee. Catching their eye, I gestured to them to go ahead and hit their tee shots before we did. One of them shouted back over, “No, you go ahead, girls, I don’t want to stop looking at your legs!”
The comment shook all of us a little bit so I described it later on Twitter, not expecting the scale of reaction back. Many agreed that it was inappropriate, but some took the view that we should have been delighted and flattered by the compliment. Someone even managed to turn it into a statement about my career earnings on the LET.
It used to frustrate me that athletes wouldn’t engage in much beyond sponsor obligations or picture-perfect portraits of their ‘world’ on social media. But when you experience the negativity and the misconceptions, and have to face up to the same relentless stream of ignorance, or the obligatory criticisms among any level of support, it’s easy to see why so many choose not to engage in the first place.
I’ve never seen myself as anything even close to controversial – all I’ve ever wanted to do is talk and write about the intoxicating madness that is golf, and highlight some of the realities female professional athletes face. And yet I’ve been labelled exactly that, probably for the simple reason that I have a voice and I post more than just swing videos. But seeing the progress the game has made over the last few years, and the positive power that social media can bring, does make it all worthwhile.
Just please don’t ask me to explain why I’m choosing not to play in Saudi Arabia this November. That one’s got far too many strings I’m not willing to pull on... but one thing you can do is to trust that I will live in the same manner that I tweet.