Carly Booth lost out in a Twitter popularity poll for a spot in next month’s $1.5 million ShopRite LPGA Classic despite getting close to 7,000 votes and support frombackers such as former Manchester United player Phil Neville and ex-England rugby international Mike Tindall.
The 24-year-old Scot finished third in the social media battle for a potential career-changing opportunity after claiming 25 per cent in a poll of nearly 28,000 votes cast over seven days in an unprecedented process in golf.
The spot went to Indian professional Sharmila Nicollet, who finished nine points ahead of the runner-up, American Blair O’Neal, on 39 per cent. Bolivian Susana Benavides finished last in the four-way battle on just 6 per cent.
Booth and O’Neal, a former member of the Symetra Tour in the US who now works for the Golf Channel, had traded the lead for the first five days of the poll. Nicollet, a 26-year-old who plays on the Ladies European Tour, then moved to the top spot on Saturday and widened her lead over the final two days as she benefited from a fan campaign on Twitter dubbed #GetSharmilaToLPGA.
The four players had been hand-picked by a sports media tracking firm 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. They have a combined total of more than 1 million followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
“We were thrilled to provide our fans an opportunity to help pick the final spot in our field, and we’re excited to offer a playing opportunity to a deserving professional golfer such as Nicollet,” said Tim Erensen, the executive director of the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
“The international exposure generated by this fan vote was extremely valuable for our tournament and women’s professional golf and we want to thank the tens of thousands of fans across the world who cast their votes.”
The poll, which received a total of 27,652 votes, was tweeted or retweeted to an estimated 85 million followers from domestic and international athletes, celebrities, brands and media outlets. Votes were cast from an estimated 90 different countries.
During the poll, Booth posted a number of messages and videos on social media, where both Neville and Tindall were among those who tried to rally support for the two-time LET winner. Her brother Wallace, a professional golfer as well, also did some canvassing on the social media site.
The poll attracted criticism, with Scottish Women in Sport founder Maureen McGonigle claiming that such exemptions should be mainly based on skill as opposed to either looks or the size of someone’s social media following.
“There is a slight mix of emotions here as I normally think that anything that can raise the profile of women in sport is good,” said McGonigle. “However, we have to be very clear of the bigger picture and I am not sure this project does that.
“When playing sport at an elite level you want to be selected for your skill, not for how you look.
“This cannot be a positive step for the sport which has been working hard to bring parity into all areas in golf. This takes us back to the days when women were viewed as accessories and decoration.”