DUBLIN, Ohio — It’s shortly after 1:30 p.m. ET on Thursday at the Memorial Tournament, and there goes the PGA Tour’s Twitter king.
Play is about to resume at Muirfield Village after a lengthy weather delay, and he stands out among the close to 100 golfers who have populated the practice range around him. The Twitter king is dressed in a trim outfit — slim-fitting dark trousers, a matching hat and vest, a subtly patterned white shirt, and neatly laced white leather shoes. He is, naturally, a model of youthful vigor, wearing only a single AirPod (two would be far too many), and a comfortable swagger.
His phone comes out briefly, but only to send a text. The real show, the one that occurs every so often on social media, will have to wait for after the round.
Just as he’s about to walk to the short-game area, something distracts the king. He looks to his left to find Max Homa, a 30-year-old Californian with a healthy Twitter following of his own. There is no bad blood between the king and Homa — there is enough room in the social media space for both. The two exchange perfunctory words and head their separate ways. In just a few moments, they’ll complete their opening round at the Memorial Tournament together — each grouped in Thursday’s 8:20 a.m. tee time.
The king’s name is Jim Herman, and he is nothing like Max Homa. Homa is a West Coast kid, youthful and fun-loving; Herman is a Midwest man, carrying a shy disposition, stoic demeanor and unique weakness for water bottles. Homa came of age in the internet era, and is uniquely in tune with the voice and style of social media; Herman is a 40-something father of two, responsible for figuring out what the hell a TikTok even is. Homa has 275,000 Twitter followers and one of the loudest megaphones in golf; Herman has 12,700 and an endless arsenal of dad jokes.
And yet these two men, Homa and Herman, represent two of the finest members of the PGA Tour Twittersphere. Homa has been involved on the app for years, but Herman is a recent addition, typically using his 280 characters to share a wisecrack about the PGA Tour’s new Player Impact Program — a $40 million popularity contest in which the eight most-liked players in professional golf earn a chunk of change … for being well-liked.
The PIP Program, which was first announced in April but began in January, uses a composite score of six metrics (among them: Q Score; Nielsen’s “brand exposure” rating; and something called Meltwater Mentions, which is a measure of social media engagement) to determine the most popular players in golf. At the end of the season, the eight highest players on the PGA Tour’s list will each receive a cut of the program’s $40 million prize pool.
The primary goal of the program is to incentivize pros to build their own ‘brands,’ but a semi-intended offshoot has occurred on social media, where several players have begun engaging for the first time.
“My manager, Michael Wolf, he likes to spur me on. He thinks Twitter is going to lead to something, and I always doubt him — I still doubt him. But we’re having fun,” Herman told GOLF.com. “This new program, the Player Impact Program, it’s made an actual reason to be a little bit more active on social media. Just to see where it’s going to lead.”
Herman is having fun, that much is undeniable, but he’s also pretty good at it. His tweets span the gamut from ‘dry dad joke’ to ‘topical quip,’ neither things the 43-year-old has ever been associated with in his public-facing PGA Tour career.
“I can’t believe the Tour is going to pay me $40,000,000.00 for this Twitter account,” one Tweet read. “There’s gotta be a catch?”
“I might start a feud with Vaughn Taylor to juice my PIP #’s,” said another in the Bryson-Brooks fallout.
“I can’t think of anything clever to tweet today, but I’d still like that $40,000,000.00 of #PiP money,” he wrote in a third tweet. “So do me a favor and like this and retweet it anyway.” (It later received 2,400 likes.)
There’s an element of knowing absurdism in Herman’s posts, and he admits he’s under no delusion that he and his 12,700 followers will wind up in the money of the PGA Tour prize pool, spare for a tectonic shift in his career. In fact, he’s quite okay with that, because Twitter has quickly become a place to showcase something most of the world has never seen: Jim Herman’s funniest self.
“I think knowing that there’s zero percent chance of getting a top-eight on this without winning golf tournaments,” he said. “Just knowing there’s no way to get in it, that’s kind of making it fun. Just having fun with the Twitter world.”
In many ways, the same can be said about Max Homa, who has turned his social media following into a literal one that can often be seen (and heard) at PGA Tour events. The PGA Tour’s PIP money more than likely won’t reach his hands, either — a function of the program’s focus on those only at the highest echelon of popularity.
For those on the outside looking in, the program has become something of an inside joke.
“We were talking about Twitter and the PIP thing, and just joking around about it,” Homa said, flashing a wry smile. “Jim has 12,000 followers and Ian Poulter has I think 2 million, so activity doesn’t really get you super far.”
“I might start a feud with Vaughn Taylor to juice my PIP #’s.”
The PIP pool has its limits, to be sure, but there can be a real benefit to an authentic social media presence. The idea is more abstract, and requires a bit more risk than simply receiving a free sum of money designated for those who are already popular. But for the social media-savvy, there’s an opportunity to carve a niche that is only tangentially related to golf.
Take Tom Brady, whose social media accounts have helped grow his wellness brand into an international business. Or closer to home, Phil Mickelson, who is hoping to do the same with his “Coffee for Wellness.” And it doesn’t have to be promoting a personal business. Former pro athletes like Pat McAfee and Paul Bissonnette have turned social media followings into post-playing careers in media. To that end, Homa has started his own podcast (with Golf Channel’s Shane Bacon), and has been a frequent dealer in the golf media space.
“Two years ago, before I won, I had a decent following and I’d never done anything great in professional golf. So that’s wild — it’s weird,” Homa said. “It’s weird for Jim to have a big following when, for the most part, nobody should know a ton about us. We’re not the mainstay superstars at this point, so it’s funny.”
The fact remains: brands want ambassadors fans can relate to, and few people are easier to relate to than those willing to show their own humanity. That is why Homa and Herman stand apart from many of their fellow pros. They’ve each found a voice and a steadily growing audience eager to hear it — even if Herman is still a bit rough around the edges.
“Yeah, Max does a nice job,” Herman said. “He’s definitely more engaged and interactive with his responses than I am. But some of his ongoing stuff is pretty funny about the tee times and whatnot, so it’s fun to jump in on.”
It’s all a bit ridiculous. But in an era defined by image-conscious pros (and handlers), so is the idea that a 43-year-old dad from Cincinnati could join a 30-year-old kid from California in representing the PGA Tour’s finest social media success stories.
“My manager thinks we’ll get hundreds of thousands of followers, but I know that’s not the case,” Herman said. “We’re just going to enjoy ourselves and have fun with it — put out some fun tweets to lighten the moment, and that’s about it.”
Just another day in #golf.