It is nearing dusk when Webb Simpson is finally crowned U.S. Open champion. Every child who plays golf dreams of holing the winning putt and raising his arms triumphantly on the final green. At the year’s second major, though, the game’s greatest battle of attrition, such storybook finishes often don’t come to fruition. So it is on this occasion, as Simpson wins the title while sitting in the clubhouse with his pregnant wife, Dowd, watching the proceedings unfold on television like most other observers around the world. He sheepishly gives her a hug and kiss, then slowly starts to make his way down to The Olympic Club’s final green for the trophy ceremony.
At the very same moment, a 41-year-old man from Liverpool, England, named Andrew Dudley is heading in the same direction. Shimmying and excusing his way past rows of spectators that run twenty-deep around the 18th green, Dudley finally makes it to the ropes which separate the gallery from the stage. He slips under those ropes, but looking decidedly out of place in a wool hat that is part Union Jack flag and part faux bird feathers, he’s quickly shooed away by security personnel. He leaves momentarily, only to watch security turn their gaze elsewhere. That’s when Dudley makes his move.
What happens next is one of golf’s ultimate YouTube moments. Gaggles of groups imitating the Gangnam Style dance and countless tweens belting out the lyrics to “Call Me Maybe” and aww-inspiring videos of babies playfully wrestling with puppies are about to be joined by Andrew Dudley’s defining moment. The clip will be clicked and reclicked over and over by thousands of Internet savants, his 15 minutes of fame wrapped neatly in a span of 15 seconds.
:00-:02 >> Webb Simpson is being interviewed by NBC announcer Bob Costas. Holding the trophy while wearing a first-place medal around his neck, Simpson leans into the microphone and explains to Costas: “That was kind of the difference. I got off to a slow start, but I…”
It’s a familiar scene – not Simpson specifically, but a major championship winner painstakingly describing his keys to victory in front of a camera. In these brief few seconds, there is no sign that something shocking is about to take place. It’s about as normal as a post-round interview with a winning golfer can be.
Perhaps that’s what makes the next few seconds so jarring. So unexpected. And yes, so hilarious.
:02-:06 >> A man pops into frame screen left. He is wearing a wool hat that is part Union Jack flag and part faux bird feathers. His name is Andrew Dudley, but we don’t know that yet. What we do know is that he looks lost. Like a baby bird crying for his mother, Dudley coos and caws, holding his position in front of Simpson as the new center of attention.
The champion continues talking to Costas, a bemused grin washing upon his face. As if we needed further proof of Simpson’s coolness during arduous conditions after topping the field through 72 holes, he shows it by continuing to proffer his answer while a man screeches bird calls just a few feet in front of him.
“My first thought was I thought he was a streaker. The first thing I did – and don’t take this the wrong way – is I looked to see if he had on pants,” Simpson later says. “Honestly, my next thought after that was this must be part of the ceremony.”
Just about everyone else’s thought is that he’s a drunken yahoo. Some unassuming fan who’d partaken in a few too many at the beer tent and inexplicably wandered into history. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
No, Dudley has been planning this for a while. In fact, contrary to popular belief, he’d only had “a couple of beers” – an important distinction because he doesn’t want to be charged with the more serious crime of drunk and disorderly conduct. But getting into the spotlight is no accident.
Two years earlier, he began taking up the cause to stop deforestation. Targeting companies that produce too much paper or use rain forest material within their packaging, Dudley has protested at retail stores, started petitions and generally tried to make consumers more aware of the world around them.
“I’m concerned with the state of the planet,” he explains. “It’s especially annoying when you see companies taking advantage of the situation. The planet is suffering from climate change and trees are getting chopped down. It’s a disaster in the making.”
It’s a noble cause, but begs one important question: What does any of this have to do with the U.S. Open? Well, the answer is nothing.
Dudley’s real job – his work to stop deforestation comes strictly as a volunteer – is social media consultant. In an effort to incorporate his profession with his passion, he decided to stretch the limits of what can be accomplished virally to help spread the word. Going by the name of Jungle Bird, his initial foray into public appearance came when he jumped in front of the queen’s motorcade – an act that elicited virtually no reaction from the masses. “That’s when I realized,” he recalls, “that it would need to be a live television thing.”
Enter the U.S. Open.
A trophy ceremony on live television at a major championship is about as high-profile as it gets. In a game with global appeal, his actions are seen on screens around the world, his cause gaining greater traction, even if people didn’t know it at the moment. Then again, it all would have been forgotten, would have been written off as a drunken yahoo spoiling someone else’s celebration if not for what happened next.
:06-:12 >> Dudley is in front of the camera for exactly four seconds before USGA executive director Mike Davis decides to take action. Because of his position within one of the game’s governing bodies, Davis is one of its most powerful people. Not that you’d know it by looking at him. He bears a noticeable resemblance to a younger version of the actor Tim Conway. Which is to say, he isn’t exactly the most physically intimidating man you’ll ever see.
Of course, a man’s physical prowess – or lack thereof – doesn’t matter when you mess with his children. And this tournament is Davis’ baby. He has been charged with the unenviable task of setting up U.S. Open courses since 2005. When he took on the role of executive director in March, 2011, it was with the understanding that he would also be able to continue in this capacity. To compare this with another sport, it’s analogous to being the general manager, head coach and offensive coordinator for a professional football team.
When Davis saw Dudley painting an ugly mustache on his baby, he didn’t have time to wait for the proper authorities or allow him to steal the spotlight any longer. “My thought was this guy is ruining Webb Simpson’s moment in the sun,” Davis remembers. “It happened so quickly, I didn't think twice.”
Davis is at least six inches shorter than Dudley and dressed in a coat and tie, but none of that stops him. He violently locks onto the Jungle Bird’s left arm and throws him. The YouTube video shows him being thrust out of frame, but on-site observers watch with delight as the party crasher tumbles into a nearby bunker. Without saying a word, one of the most powerful people in golf has made a vivid statement: Don’t mess with the USGA.
Not that it was anything but instinctive. In the moments after a takedown straight out of WWE, Davis thinks to himself, “I cannot believe that just happened. What did I just do?” He immediately receives hundreds of text messages to his cell phone, none more knowing than that of his wife, Cece, who tells him from the clubhouse: “I’ve seen that look before.”
In an ironic twist, Dudley – a jack of all trades if there ever was one – is also in the process of authoring a book on sarcopenia, a gradual decline in muscle performance that affects all people with age. He is especially targeting golfers, whom he says can maintain skeletal muscle and core strength through weight training and other activities. If he ever needs a case study, Davis’ takedown could serve as Exhibit A.
But what would have happened if Davis hadn’t intervened? Dudley contends he was done.
“That was the end of it,” he says. “That’s what I wanted to achieve, but I didn’t get a chance to shout anything about stopping deforestation, because Mike Davis has great reflexes.”
:12-:15 >> Jungle Bird lays in a jumbled mess just a few yards from Simpson, while the camera remains glued on the champion, his buoyant smile growing even wider. He feels compelled to address the situation. Good idea. After all, nobody wants to hear about the keys to his victory when a guy in a bird hat is still rolling around in the sand.
And so Simpson turns to his left and with that smile still affixed to his face, tells Dudley for all the world to hear: “Enjoy the jail cell, pal.”
The words imply irritation, but he never seems irritated by the situation. Not in the moment and not months later when reliving it.
“People thought it might have taken away from the moment,” he says. “I loved it. I mean, more people talk about that than me winning the tournament. I thought it was cool. It was fun to be a part of something that I think the 2012 U.S. Open will be remembered by.”
Simpson thought it was so cool that his first tweet after the win wasn’t a word of thanks to his fans or personal exaltation from the win. It was three words: “My new friend.” Attached was a picture of Dudley.
Davis can laugh about the situation, too. He is now the proud owner of more Jungle Bird hats than he can even count, including one that came as a present from 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. Though he doesn’t condone Dudley’s actions, he holds no ill will toward him, either.
“Obviously we wouldn't want something like this to happen again in the future, but my understanding is he was trying to get attention for something he believes in,” he says. “It’s not as if he was a danger, but we don’t want to encourage things like that.”
Too late. At the USGA’s recent holiday party, Davis stood on the stage and began his prepared speech. He had barely uttered an introduction when Dick Rugge, the organization’s senior technical director, stormed the stage wearing a Jungle Bird hat and producing loud bird calls. Davis was laughing too hard to throw him to the ground.
As for Dudley, the stunt was a rousing success. By the next morning, TMZ had located him, followed by CNN, NBC and a bevy of other media outlets. His 15 seconds of fame had transcended 15 minutes. It turns out the drunken yahoo in the funny hat was neither drunk nor a yahoo. Just a man trying to find an original way to draw more eyeballs to an issue.
“People are bogged down with a lot of information,” he maintains. “You have to do something to get their attention.”
He later surfaced at the Women’s British Open and the Notre Dame-Navy football game played in Dublin, Ireland. And Dudley promises you haven’t seen the last of Jungle Bird, as he holds no regrets from the U.S. Open trophy ceremony.
“I just didn’t want to upset anyone,” he says. “Webb Simpson sent me a picture with one of the Jungle Bird hats on. So it’s really come full circle. That’s a bit of a relief.”