Breaking news: Number of twits on Twitter grows

US Open winner Rory McIlroy is back in the news, but this time it is not for more of his fantastic Major winning exploits. This time, McIlroy has engaged in a spat on Twitter.

Arguments over the web are nothing new. Rooney had a very public, and probably unnecessary, dispute with a Liverpool fan and Piers Morgan’s tweets (perhaps justifiably) do not always receive celebrity-worshiping, ego-boosting replies.

Nonetheless, McIlroy has stepped into a new domain; he has replied to media criticism in a very open fashion. Former-golfer-turned-pundit Jay Townsend tweeted during the Irish Open about McIlroy’s performance, stating “McIlroy’s course management was shocking. Some of the worst course management I have ever seen beyond under-10 boys’ golf competition.”

McIlroy replied to Townsend in a petulant fashion when he said “Shut up … you’re a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing!”

It is true that the opinions that will matter the most to McIlroy will be not be found in the media. The criticisms that really count will come from Michael Bannon, his coach, his caddy, the golfers McIlroy respects the most, as well as his closest family. Nevertheless, any form of criticism is hard to take, particularly when it is aired in such an open and public way.

McIlroy found himself arguing on Twitter

In the past, many sportsmen have responded to criticism by turning it into match-winning performances. Stuart Broad recently showed his critics just why he deserves his place in the England squad with a fantastic performance against India and Wayne Rooney had a poor start to the 2010-11 season but by the end, turned out some match-winning performances, guiding Manchester United towards Premier League victory.

In responding angrily to Townsend, McIlroy has not let his future performances speak for themselves and has instead appeared unable to handle criticism. Townsend’s comments were not particularly constructive and can be seen as being rather insulting, but McIlroy did not need to rise to them. He could have quietly blocked Townsend and no one would have been the wiser.

These angry spats over the web may become more and more common in the future, as the line between sportsman and the media becomes more blurred. If they follow each other on Twitter, is there a greater license for them to insult one another?

Many commentators are former sportsmen themselves, no strangers to criticism and yet more than willing to dish it out. Through airing their opinions on social networking sits such as Twitter, sportsmen are even less able to avoid their remarks. It is easy enough not to buy newspapers or at least avoid the back pages. It is even easier in the vast chasms of the internet to only read articles that have no relevance to a sportsman’s performance. With Twitter, used as it is by so many sports personalities and members of the media, it is harder to avoid the constant stream of criticism that could appear on a news feed. Blocking Townsend may be enough for McIlroy to ignore his comments. That is, as long as no one else decides to re-tweet them.

As a side note, Ed Cowan’s brilliant article on the prevalence of depression amongst cricketers raises many important reasons as to why it may be so common, though it ignores the issue of media pressure and critique.

Every newspaper, sports website, sports blog, and now, Twitter, leave the sportsman finding it harder and harder to avoid disparaging remarks. While some may thrive in proving the pundits wrong, for others, it could be harder to ignore.

For many sportsmen, living in the 1800s may have been preferable, when news could not travel so fast and open criticism was not available at the click of a button.