Having already been used to select some hole locations in a major and also what outfits players should wear on certain days at big events, social media will now decide a four-way battle for a sponsor’s spot in an upcoming golf tournament worth $1.5 million.
In a ground-breaking move, organisers of the Shoprite LPGA Classic have teamed up with a sports social media tracking firm, which was co-founded by two-time major winner Jordan Spieth’s dad, to put the last exemption for the event in the first week of June up to a vote on Twitter.
Four players, including Carly Booth, have been picked out on the basis of being the top women golfers in terms of social media following who weren’t already qualified for the tournament, which is being held in New Jersey.
The winner of the week-long poll, which was launched on Monday night and has already attracted more than 12,000 votes, will earn a potential career-changing opportunity in an event that saw Swede Anna Nordqvist pick up $225,000 as she made a successful defence of the title last year.
“We’ve always been proud of the exemptions we’ve given in the past,” said Tim Erensen, the event’s executive director. “In the past, we’ve given exemptions to Brooke Henderson, Lexi Thompson and Paula Creamer at the beginning of their careers. We think this idea adds to the excitement of what we do.”
Booth, a two-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, has been nominated along with American Blair O’Neal, Indian Sharmila Nicollet and Bolivian-born Susana Benavides. Booth, a frequent social media user whether she’s out on the golf course, in the gym or out socialising, has more than 62,000 followers on Instagram while over 35,000 people follow her on Twitter.
However, she faces stiff competition for that coveted spot, particularly from O’Neal. A Golf Channel host, having won the network’s reality show competition “Big Break”, she has 186,000 Instagram followers. Benavides, meanwhile, has more than 350,000 followers on Twitter, second only among LPGA players to the aforementioned Creamer in that respect.
MVP Index, which was co-founded by Shawn Spieth, was the social media tracking firm tournament officials used to come up with this novel idea, one that has worked in one respect already as it has drawn attention to it well in advance of the event actually taking place.
Booth, who is currently out in India doing some promotional work, went on Twitter to plead for votes from her followers – her big brother and fellow professional, Wallace, also did some canvassing on the social media site – while O’Neal posted a video that involved one of her Golf Channel colleagues doing likewise.
Booth later posted a video, too, of her doing a somersault captioned “Flip sake Carly”, which was for no other reason than trying to raise the 24-year-old’s profile over the next few days.
Under normal circumstances, exemptions for events on both the men’s and women’s tours around the world are based on a combination of merit and potential pulling power. That’s often why spots go to players who may still be living on past glories rather than up-and-coming players, even though they may actually have a better chance of getting into the mix in events.
It can certainly be a headache for tournament organisers when they only have a handful of spots available yet have a long list of players to try and sift through, the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open being a perfect case in point until the introduction of a 36-hole qualifier two years ago. That eased the pressure on the event’s three main partners when it came to trying to keep as many home players as happy as possible while, at the same time, opening up more spots for Americans, for example.
However, the decision to basically create a popularity contest for the last spot in the LPGA Shoprite Classic is sure to have raised some eyebrows in the sporting world, especially if, as could be the case, it is seen as targeting this particular quartet because they are young and good looking.