Ian Poulter was at Wimbledon yesterday, watching Andy Murray while tapping furiously into his mobile phone. But these were not the ignorant actions of a bored corporate guest, a self-obsessed sportsman even, staying in touch with his wonderful life via text. Here was a diligent twitterer keeping his 130,000 followers up to date with events on Centre Court.
Poulter is just the latest high-profile sportsman to sign up to the social networking service. But already, just two weeks into the pursuit he calls "my newest addiction", he is adjudged to be one of the most accomplished of the superstar micro-bloggers.
At last week's US Open, Poulter did not play well enough to crack the top 10, but he did tweet well enough to make it into the top five of the "Sports Twitter Rankings". CNBC, the American news network, issues monthly ratings for this burgeoning genre, and they clearly rated Poulter's offerings from a soaking Bethpage which, they said, set him in a different class from other twittering golfers such as John Daly and Michelle Wie.
While his one-liners were crisp enough ("Had sushi last night. Thought it was apt. Going to feel like a fish out there today") it was the information he dispensed that really crackled. As the game's toughest major threatened to sink into farce, Poulter extended his audience a rare glimpse into the problems facing the pros.
He was critical of the USGA in failing to invoke the "lift, clean and place" rule and the picture he posted of mud on his ball was, in CNBC's opinion, "the most interesting Twitpic in sports tweeting land". It certainly caused controversy, not least because it suggested Poulter was busy tweeting when he should have been competing.
"Nah, I didn't and wouldn't do that," Poulter told The Independent on Sunday. "I took the picture and sent it during the break between rounds. You know, this is a great way of getting the information out there quickly and giving to golf fans some insight they've never had before."
At first, Poulter was cynical. "My brother set me up an account a few months ago, but I only started using it when I noticed that a few of my biggest mates were on there – Will Carling, Vernon Kay, Paul Dalglish [son of Kenny]. It was good banter and it was a laugh to know that other people were looking on. But there's also a serious side to it. It's a very clever marketing and publicity tool and one that I have complete control over. Although I'll have to be careful what I say now that the press is on to it."
Poulter is nothing if not competitive and has Stewart Cink, golf's most followed Twitterer, in his sights. He has some way to go to catch his Ryder Cup rival, who has nigh on 420,000 followers, but Cink started tweeting in earnest at the end of March and Poulter's progression in the last fortnight has been, as he modestly puts it, "incredible".
"I was amazed when I got to 30,000 in the week before Bethpage," he said. "At the time I tweeted 'that's more than watched Wigan v Arsenal recently' and I was stunned. But since then it's snowballed – 100,000 new followers in a few days. It's turned into a responsibility, but I'm on a mission to get as many followers as I can. Naturally, the more successful I am on the course..."
Poulter would not be Poulter if he was not ultra-confident in that respect. He returned to England on Tuesday for the first time in seven months and was clearly relieved to do so. He had had a row with a US airport security official (who would not let him take on board a bottle of Mike Weir's red wine or his deodorant) and "was dying for a proper cup of tea". But more than this, there were the next three weeks to look forward to. "There's the French Open next week, the Scottish Open, and then the British. I love all of those events and have played great in all of them before." Can he do the hat-trick? All to be revealed on twitter.com.
Tip of the week
No 7: shanker's curse
Shanking is the most destructive shot in golf. It is even infectious; you can catch it watching your partners "doing the unmentionable". Most people experience shanks with shorter, more lofted clubs as they quit on the shot when nerves kick in. If you're shanking, the club-head is simply too far away at impact so you're striking the ball on the hosel, not the club-face. The best practice drill is: place a tee 2cm inside the ball you're hitting. Address the ball as normal but concentrate on striking the tee from the ground. Once you can do this consistently you'll be hitting the middle of the club face.
Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC, Surrey. www.theshortgame.co.uk