@secrettourpro and the dangers of uncertain anonymity
Albatrossities

@secrettourpro and the dangers of uncertain anonymity

NEWCASTLE, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 29:  Bernd Wiesberger of Austria  (R) and Andy Sullivan of England look down the 13th hole during the Second Round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation at Royal County Down Golf Club on May 29, 2015 in Newcastle, Northern Ireland.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
NEWCASTLE, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 29: Bernd Wiesberger of Austria (R) and Andy Sullivan of England look down the 13th hole during the Second Round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation at Royal County Down Golf Club on May 29, 2015 in Newcastle, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Once again on Sunday, the golf world -- OK, at least on Twitter -- was sent into a tizzy by yet another Tiger Woods report suggesting bad news about the health of the 14-time major winner.

The report cited an anonymous source which went into great detail about Woods' seemingly futile efforts to recover from a pair of fall back surgeries.


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It just so happened that the reporter was also anonymous.

Let me stop right here. If you want the juicy stuff and not a lecture about responsibility, scroll down for a while.

The Twitter account @secrettourpro has developed quite a substantial following since its creation, now boasting 30,000-plus followers largely on the premise that the person who controls the account is, in fact, a top touring pro who has chosen to anonymously draw the curtain back on what really happens in pro golf. The account makes proclamations about the status of players -- typically top players -- and shares bite-sized versions of rumors that, in many cases, are pretty well disseminated on Tour.

Most of it is all in good clean fun. A lot of the rumors seem to center around equipment deals for players. Maybe occasionally mentioning another player on Twitter with a generic comment. There's a lot of interaction with followers, and that's harmless.

However, the string of tweets about Woods' health and potential comeback is troubling. Certainly on occasion the media divulges potential injuries plaguing players. More often than not, though, players are the ones to acknowledge them to the media. Sometimes it's after a poor performance -- or ahead of one. Sometimes, like Bubba Watson about his kidney stone before the Northern Trust Open, it's after a big win, making it seem even more extraordinary. Players don't typically share -- in public at least -- anything about other players. It's the Golden Rule. That's why Phil Mickelson was unhappy with blabbery new pro Ryan Ruffels when, on multiple occasions, the Aussie teen shared details about his relationship and interactions with the five-time major winner that could well have gotten Lefty and his brother Tim, head men's golf coach at Arizona State, in some hot water with the NCAA. Pros develop a knowledge of when to keep your mouth shut for public consumption.

Nonetheless, players talk. So do touring reps for manufacturers, caddies, coaches and everyone else. Golf is small, and it's not too hard to walk into a conversation that probably wasn't meant for your ears. Rumors fly, a lot of them false. Did you hear the one about how Under Armour was going to buy Titleist? No! TaylorMade! Or how about Bridgestone getting out of the U.S. market? Yup, that spread at the PGA Show -- just as the company was unveiling new equipment on Demo Day.

That's the problem with rumors. If they're good, people want to believe them. Often times, like cliches, they're born out of some shred of truth. The job of a journalist -- and, frankly, a blogger -- is to construct a personal, reliable bullshit detector. Know who and what to believe. Learn who has the goods and who doesn't. Form good relationships so that you get the truth one way or another.

My 7th grade math teacher once asked me, "Why are you so cynical?" Twenty years later, I could explain to her situations like this one. Cynicism contorts and distorts your world view, but, in my life, it's proven more useful than harmful. Everyone has a reason, a motivation to do something. It may not be big, mean and nasty, but there's a reason. Not everyone knows their own reason, so sometimes it's your job to figure it out for them and yourself.

Which brings me back to Secret Tour Pro. Why share information purported to be true about Tiger Woods? For retweets? OK. For fame? Perhaps. But it's certainly not for money. A top-tier touring pro has way more to lose by being uncovered than is to be gained sharing that kind of information, right or wrong. Business relationships, especially endorsements, are built on trust and likability. Nothing screams the opposite of that more than crapping where you eat, even anonymously.

So, you quip, Secret Tour Pro fan, why then did respected golf journalist Robert Lusetich report basically the same things STP said about Woods on his own? I guess Secret Tour Pro got it right, you surmise.

Two things.

Lusetich, who has written an in-depth book about Woods, is an infinitely more credible source than Secret Tour Pro, primarily because he's willing to put his name on his reporting. It's part of the job. "Anonymous sources tell anonymous ESPN reporter and media reports" doesn't scroll at the Worldwide Leader. If Lusetich, or any other writer, gets bad information from a source, named or otherwise, it's on them that it was bad or compromised. It's on the writer to take responsibility for what's reported. STP doesn't face that kind of scrutiny if the person behind it has bad info.

In fact, STP followers hold the account to a lower standard. Several folks tweeted at me to say STP has been the victim of bad sources in the past or is just sharing information the golf media isn't reporting. That's for good reason. If we share bad info, we'd be skewered. There's a higher standard there. (And, as I write this, I think back to the occasional admonishment fellow bloggers, myself sometimes included, got in the earlier years. I concede the point.)

More specifically on the subject of Woods, STP had been wrong twice in the past. Last summer, the account suggested Woods had fired swing instructor Chris Como, prompting some media on site at the Quicken Loans National to pry about the rumor to Woods. Who shows up the next day on the range? Como. Woods has a way of proving a point when things aren't true.

In December, STP tweeted out an image of Woods, purporting that a "source" had told him Woods was hitting balls on the range at Bear's Club in Jupiter, Fla. It didn't take long for an enterprising, Googling golf fan to figure out the image wasn't current. It was of Woods at a pro-am event for The Honda Classic from a few years ago. That cued up STP to claim he had a bad source. Going 0-fer on big Tiger Woods claims doesn't exactly inspire confidence that this report about Woods' health is right.

And, besides, Lusetich was much less specific than STP was. The reports weren't similar. Lusetich said Woods had a setback, has a hard time sitting and gets around in his car with the passenger seat folded parallel to the ground. STP added in a whole lot more, very specific info:

  • Woods had been jogging before his supposed setback
  • Fellow pros thought he'd come back at the Hero World Challenge in December
  • Woods had eyes on The Players in May for a comeback
  • He was living at an "apartment" at Albany in the Bahamas, site to the HWC
  • Woods can walk for "30-45 minutes" per day

See the difference? Lusetich reported what he can say with confidence.

Yes, Mark Steinberg came out with a vehement denial. In personal experience, that kind of denial has meant there's no truth to what's been reported. However, Steinberg is an agent and his client is Tiger Woods. That leads folks to believe less in him, somewhat incredibly, than an anonymous Twitter account. Welcome to 2016!

I don't know who's right or wrong. It matters, but it doesn't to the end that words matter and so does taking responsibility for what's put out by a person of influence.

***

For those of you who skipped the lecture, here's what you probably came to see.

Since the start, lovers and haters alike of Secret Tour Pro have been trying to figure out the person's identity, implicitly believing the person's stated background and trying to use whatever morsels they could to figure it out. I've been asked a bunch of times, publicly and privately, if I'd venture a guess. I've maintained I'm skeptical the person behind it is even a touring pro, for the reasons I laid out earlier. Summary: There's just too much to lose in getting found out.

But I'd never really dug in to see what I could decipher for myself until last night.

Ultimately, I can't tell you who Secret Tour Pro is. However, I do have some interesting clues.

For one, the account is run by several people. Some know golf well. Some don't. Exhibit A, this tweet from last night.

stp-1

That better be sarcastic. If not, yikes.

Multiple people have suggested to me, and it's a theory that I like, that the people behind STP have access to the European and PGA Tours, but they're not players themselves. That would add up. All the rumors still come up and they can be used to maintain an identity. Again, I can't prove or disprove that theory.

But here's what I can show you.

Secret Tour Pro often shares photos with tweets, usually trying to tie them to the place they're claiming to be. Pebble. Riviera. Doha. Wherever. Here's the problem: In a number of instances, the photos were not taken by Secret Tour Pro, but rather by other Twitter users, days or weeks before Secret Tour Pro posted them.

I have five examples.

On Jan. 26, STP tweeted out this photo of Doha Country Club, site of that week's CommercialBank Qatar Masters.

doha-stp

However, that's actually a cropped version of a photo taken by the European Tour and tweeted out five days earlier.

doha-orig

Alright, you say. So what? He's using a Euro Tour image. I's got more.

How about this Jan. 31 tweet, with STP showing up at Nike's The Oven in Ft. Worth, Texas?

oven-stp

That's not his image. It was from this person on Oct. 30.

oven-orig

It's the same photo, just zoomed in by STP.

Let's head out on Tour. STP was at Pebble Beach for the ole Crosby Clambake.

rzn-stp

Lookin' good in those new Lunar Control 4 shoes and with a sleeve of RZN Proto balls, right?! Wait, what?

rzn-orig

But those shadows looking exactly the same MUST be a coincidence!

Everyone loves L.A.! Including STP! That's why he took this great picture at Riviera Country Club, site of last week's Northern Trust Open.

riv-fountain-stp

Oh no.

riv-fountain-orig

It's the same. Down to the shadows, the white car in the same spot, the car through the hedges and the angle of the shot. Just. Zoomed. In.

STP was walking the range at Riviera and wanted to show off Adam Scott's supposed set of sweet T-MB irons. So he shared an image of what a full set looks like (especially since PGA Tour equipment reporter Jon Wall had already contradicted the original premise of the tweets, which was to say Scott had the full set with him).

tmb-stp

That's not his image either. That's from Titleist's On Tour blog from the Shriners event in Las Vegas in October.

tmb-orig

Alright, he's using other people's images. That doesn't reveal STP's identity, but it sure does leave a whole lot of doubt that STP is where he is purporting to be in those tweets, right? Why not just take your own photos?

One more. It's not another image comparison. Rather, it's some info checking. STP tweeted some information about the supposed appearance fees top players got to compete in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

It sounds like a good piece of information. So, I Googled "abu dhabi sports council appearance fees" to see what I could glean from the Interwebs about this information, see if it's publicly available. The only place on the Internet that stuff publicly exists is in a GolfWRX forum thread.

fees-stp

And the numbers in the original GolfWRX post just happen to neatly add up to $10 million, just as STP tweeted 16 days later.

fees-orig

Could be a coincidence.

Again, I'm perfectly willing to admit that I have no idea who the person is or people are behind this account. They clearly have some golf knowledge. They either read a lot of forums for rumors or hear them on ranges they stroll. They may well know of equipment changes ahead of other people, but the photos of where they are don't belong to them.

This may not be an answer, but, for the curious, you might now have more ammo to figure out the rest.

THAT WAS FUN, RIGHT?!

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