Member of The Press sports staff since 1986, starting my 25th season as The Press Eagles' beat writer. Also cover boxing, MMA, golf, high school sports and everything else.

Imagine getting the opportunity to choose the Phillies’ starting pitcher for the next game.

Or deciding who should be the Eagles’ cornerbacks this season.

That’s sort of like what the ShopRite LPGA Classic is trying this year.

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The tournament is experimenting with several unique concepts to help determine the lineup for this year’s event, which will be held June 2-4 on the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway Township.

The final spot in the 144-player field will be determined by a Twitter poll. Voters have until May 8 to select Bolivia native Susan Benavides, 17-year-old Scottish player Carly Booth, India native Sharmila Nicollet or Golf Channel host Blair O’Neal to compete in the 29th ShopRite Classic.

On May 28, the tournament will also stage a 10-player mini-qualifier at Seaview to fill another spot in the field. Mays Landing native and Oakcrest High School graduate Joanna Coe will be among the players, as will popular ShopRite Classic participant Julieta Granada.

“We have some extra sponsors exemptions this year, so we figured we’d try something different to fill them,” ShopRite Classic Executive Director Tim Erensen said. “It’s no secret that golf is struggling in terms of attendance and viewership. We wanted to push the needle and try something new.”

They had to try something.

Although the ShopRite Classic itself is on solid footing — the tournament is easily the most popular sports event in the Atlantic City area, drawing big crowds every year — professional golf as a whole is sagging.

According to Sports Media Watch, final-round ratings and viewership for the men’s PGA Tour has declined for 12 straight weeks. The final round of the Masters last month posted a 6.8 final rating and had 11.1 million viewers on CBS. The rating was tied for the second-lowest in the Masters since 1980.

The final round of the ANA Inspiration, the first LPGA major of the season, drew an impressive 551,000 viewers on Golf Channel, but most people tuned in after hearing that Lexi Thompson had been assessed a four-stroke penalty because of an email sent by a viewer earlier in the day.

Erensen, who helped resurrect the tournament in 2010 after it shut down for three years, enlisted MVPIndex, a company that studies social media, to create the Twitter poll.

Booth, Benavides, Nicollet and O’Neal are all active on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, combining for more than one million followers on those platforms.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 13,777 votes had been cast. O’Neal was ahead with 39 percent of the votes. Click here to vote.

Both the Twitter poll — believed to be the first time a professional sports organization has used one to determine a lineup — and the mini-playoff were created by Erensen.

He deserves kudos for recognizing the power of social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other avenues have developed an amazing ability to influence people and shape culture.

Just ask President Donald Trump, whose Twitter account has more than 28.6 million followers. Though it should be noted that according to friendorfollow.com, the 45th president of the United States only ranks 41st in the rankings, just behind entertainer Bruno Mars (more than 29.2 million followers) and ahead of Brazilian soccer star Neymar Jr. (28.5 million).

Singer Katy Perry is president of the Twitter universe with 97.4 million followers, just ahead of singer Justin Bieber and his 93.4 million “Beliebers.”

Of course, they all have a huge lead on me and my 2,194 followers.

I need more “Beliebers.”

(David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.)

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Contact:

609-272-7201 dweinberg@pressofac.com

Twitter @pressacweinberg

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