It was late afternoon on Dec. 4, 2011, the sun still beating down on Sherwood Country Club as thousands of spectators craned their necks in hopes of catching a glimpse of the soon-to-be champion. More than two years had passed since Tiger Woods’ last victory, but here at the Chevron World Challenge, his own tournament, he was on the verge of erasing that drought.
Woods stepped to the 18th tee box and grabbed his club of choice. There existed palpable tension, those two years of futility and the impending comeback fused together in one final crescendo. An eerie quiet fell over the awaiting gallery.
He swung and an unexpected noise broke the silence …
Standing just left of the tee box, maybe 20 feet from Woods, was Andrew Widmar, an El Paso, Texas, native who was attending college nearby. Flanked by two buddies, Widmar had planned all day for this one moment.
There were no dastardly intentions. Instead, it was just his way of saying, “Hi Mom!” Earlier that morning, Widmar’s mother had asked her son if she would see him on television during the telecast.
“What are you wearing?” she asked. “Where will you be?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “But if you hear ‘mashed potatoes,’ you’ll know I was there.”
She heard it. The entire viewing audience heard it.
In a pressure-packed moment that was about to signify the return of the game’s erstwhile No. 1 player, the cry was impossible to ignore. Even the broadcast team, neglecting its general rule to ignore boisterous fans, made mention of it.
What may come as a surprise is that Widmar wasn’t just some wannabe fanboy who confused a professional golf tournament for a WWE cage match. Those buddies, Parker Page and Andreas Adler, were his Pepperdine University golf teammates and Widmar himself had twice competed in the U.S. Amateur Championship.
He never could have imagined what one primal scream would cause.
Nearly two years later, it’s almost surprising when an elite player rips a drive that isn’t accompanied by some sort of vocal acknowledgment.
“LIGHT THE CANDLE!!!”
But none have become more fashionable than Widmar’s refrain.
Which leads to one inevitable question: Of all things to yell, why that?
“I’d seen it before on YouTube,” explains Widmar, now 25. “My friends thought it was stupid, but I thought it was hilarious. … I wish I could take credit for starting it, but I will take credit for it becoming popular. It’s a good one to yell, because it’s nice and quick and it means absolutely nothing.”
When it comes to post-swing yelling, consider that singular scream the tipping point.
YELLER: Tim Fox
HOMETOWN: New Canaan, Conn.
TOURNAMENT: 2009 U.S. Open; 2013 U.S. Open; The Barclays (multiple years)
“I’ll yell pretty much anywhere, I don’t follow a specific golfer or anything. It’s kind of sporadic. I like to have fun with it.
“I do the yell from Turtle Man, who’s like this 60-year-old redneck guy [on the Animal Planet program ‘Call of the Wildman’]. He goes, 'Hehehehehe! Live action!' So that’s pretty popular.
“I’m always a little timid early in the day. I don’t really want to say a lot, but once you do it once or twice, it’s almost like it doesn’t matter anymore. A lot of people think it’s hilarious; it almost gets people into it more.
“No one has ever said anything negative to me. If you shout out their college, they may give you a hat tip, but never a glare or anything like that. I’ve never had a problem with it from other fans, caddies, marshals or players.”
There is no archetype for those who scream peculiar aphorisms at golf tournaments. There is a specific demographic, though. They are male. Between the ages of 18 and 34. Often fueled by alcohol. And they want friends and relatives watching at home to know their whereabouts.
Let’s not mince words: Screaming at tournaments isn’t anything new. Somewhere between Scottish shepherds inventing the game centuries ago and John Daly winning two major championships, it became popular with the in crowd. For years, however, these cries were limited to “YOU DA MAN!!!” Or “GET IN THE HOLE!!!” Or the simple yet elegant, “WOOOOOO!!!”
Since Widmar’s groundbreaker, they have not only become more prevalent, but exceedingly strange. If his scream was the tipping point, the recent PGA Championship may have been the boiling point. In a seemingly constant battle to one-up fellow gallery mates, fans have become louder and – in an attempt to further push the envelope – seem to be screaming closer to impact in order to be the first one heard. At one point during the final round, Jim Furyk, playing in the final twosome, hit a tee shot and instead of watching it land, turned around to glare at a headstrong spectator behind him.
It’s not everyone, though. In fact, it’s hardly the majority.
When I asked people on Twitter for their personal stories of yelling during tournaments, about 95 percent of the respondents didn’t just denounce the act. They wanted physical pain induced on the culprits.
“Great idea! Herd them all together and do a mass laryngectomy. After a good hiding, of course. Who will admit to being a moron?”
“Next one you speak to, kick him right in the b----!”
“After kicking them in the n---. Punch them in the face. Thanks man.”
“Tell them all to STFU – sincerely, from everyone with an IQ over 100.”
YELLER: Sam Carlin
HOMETOWN: Harrisburg, Pa.
TOURNAMENT: 2013 U.S. Open
“I was there with three friends. Tiger Woods is my favorite golfer and we watched him tee off [hole No.] 1, then watched another few groups. Then we decided to walk the front nine and got to 7. Tiger was on the green, so we ran over to the tee box at 8.
“One friend dared me to scream something. I’ve always been kind of a class clown, so as soon as he hit, I yelled, ‘I love you, Tiger!’ Probably 10-15 guys laughed. They turned and looked at me, no one said anything negative.
“Of course I didn’t scream during impact. It was probably three seconds after he swung.
“Did Tiger look at me afterward? Sadly, no. He didn’t. He hooked that shot, so he looked pretty pissed.”
Not every tournament can be the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Alright, no other tournament can be the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
On its worst day, the biggest party in golf outdraws just about every other tournament’s best day. The 16th hole alone can hold upwards of 15,000 spectators at once. And no, they aren’t quiet.
These are fans who have perfected pre- and post-shot screaming to an art form, rendering shouts of tasty side dishes mere child’s play.
For the past decade, Mike Leonard has served as the 16th hole’s de facto ringleader. Seated just left of the entrance to the tee box, Leonard and his cronies are among the most creative in golf – but it’s not without plenty of hard work.
Years ago, the Minnesota native created what he calls “Leonard’s List,” a cheat sheet offering multiple esoteric facts about every player in the field. (It’s laminated, of course, to repel any beverage spills.) He’s compiled data from high school sweethearts to the names of caddies’ dogs. Anyone within six degrees of separation is fair game.
“The majority of the guys in the bleachers are avid golfers who follow golf and not only know exactly who is coming through the tunnel next, but have information about them,” Leonard says. “We're in the cheap seats, but we're respectful of the golfers. We give them the calm before the storm when they're on the tee.”
Publicly, at least, most pro golfers claim that for one hole, one week of the year, they have no problem with the raucous atmosphere. There’s no doubt, though, that fans attending every other tournament have witnessed this atmosphere on television and have tried, even just a little, to recreate it at their own hometown events.
YELLER: David Wisemiller
HOMETOWN: Fairfax, Va.
TOURNAMENT: AT&T National (multiple years)
“I played high school golf with Steve Marino. I only yell for him, not for anybody else.
“'Close escrow!' when he makes a putt; ‘Clean that (s---) up!’ if he leaves it short; ‘Fresh tires!’ when he’s playing badly; ‘Boom goes the dynamite!’ once in a while. You name it.
“A few years ago at Congressional, I was yelling for Steve and Jeff Maggert was in the group ahead. After one yell, Maggert makes a beeline to find me in the pink shirt I was wearing. He said, ‘If you yell one more time in my backswing, I will f---ing kill you.’
“The next year, they recognized it was me. I was doing my normal catcall yell and they told me not to. They threw me out and said, ‘Don’t come back for a year.’ They didn’t arrest me, just gave me a warning.”
To be sure, yellers aren’t born. It’s a learned trait. And by the same logic, it can be unlearned, too.
“My dad first took me to the Masters when I was 16,” recounts Bailey Player, a high school golf coach in Atlanta and distant cousin of golf legend Gary Player. “I felt like Moses being invited into the promised land. Anyway, flushed with excitement and caffeine, we began following Nick Faldo, who was my favorite golfer at the time.
“On the second or third hole, Faldo hit an iron into the green and I offered up a tremulous, 'YOU DA MAN, NICKY!' My father pulled me aside by the arm and explained that this was the Masters, not some football game, dammit. If I wanted to yell, we could go see the Falcons play.”
Others want to yell, but in the vernacular of their targets, they just need more reps.
John Edler will soon be embarking upon a collegiate golf career at Bucknell University. The incoming freshman attended a practice round at this year’s U.S. Open, where he found himself watching Martin Kaymer on the tee at the 504-yard par-4 fifth hole.
“I just yelled, 'GET IN THE HOLE!!!' says the Fairhaven, N.J., native. “The fans can’t do anything except watch. It makes it more enjoyable and interesting for us. Even if you don’t like golf, you can still have fun with it.”
YELLER: Joe Ardaiolo
TOURNAMENT: 2012 BMW Championship
“I’ve only been to one golf tournament. I’m a pretty average golf fan, so I was just walking around on Saturday and Sunday, just trying to follow the big names.
“About five or six times I was just randomly right near Graeme McDowell. Him being Irish, I thought it would be funny just to yell out, ‘Lucky charms!’ after he hit. It wasn’t premeditated or anything.
“Before I did it, I thought I’d get yelled at, but most of the people would just start laughing, so I just kind of continued to do it.
“I don’t regret it at all. You sit at home every Sunday and watch golf and hear people yell stuff. You wonder, ‘What would I yell?’ I got that chance and it happened. But after hearing all this stuff after the PGA this year, I feel like I’ll probably restrain myself from doing it again.”
“I'm kind of fed up with all this ‘mashed potatoes’ and all this rubbish that the crowd are kind of enjoying shouting right now,” McDowell said last year. “It gets a little frustrating for everyone.”
With few exceptions, there are two types of golfers on the PGA Tour: Those who admit they hate the outlandish catcalls from fans, and those who secretly hate the outlandish catcalls from fans.
It is indeed a slippery slope.
Keep your opinion private and fans will never understand just how annoying they can be. Go public with your feelings and risk the possibility of fans piling on every time you tee it up.
The latter may be awaiting Ian Poulter, who took to Twitter after the PGA Championship in a lengthy rant condemning the voluble nature of the year’s final major:
“We should be allowed to take 10'000 volt tazers onto the course and tazer ever muppet who shouts out something stupid. I would laugh then.”
“This baba boo (s---) & mash potato crap shouting wouldn't happen at Augusta, The Open, nor would it happen at Wimbledon. Tazer the thrushes.”
“I have no problem with this Baba Booey it's simple. @pgatour have said they will remove the few that spoil it for the real golf fans.”
“Is this the atmosphere we are asking for in golf. Golf is a game of respect and honesty Not stupid outbursts. BA Boom.”
“I find it an issue when someone shouts out on impact miss it when your putting. Or when some calls Get in the rough. Simply Disrespectful”
“If you need to be heard on TV at golf tournaments. Can I suggest. Work hard on your game you will be seen & heard at same time. #Simple”
YELLER: Phil Galletto
HOMETOWN: Webster, N.Y.
TOURNAMENT: 2013 PGA Championship
“I consider myself a pretty vocal sports fan. I think a lot of people are normally football or baseball or basketball fans who wind up at golf events. But I respect the game; I play the game.
“Whenever I had a chance, if I was near a group that wasn’t being followed as much, I tried to yell out if something interesting happened. I’d yell something relevant and interesting, but I was only doing it after their shot.
“My friend with me was like, ‘Dude, that was stupid.’ But those people were laughing. There were some definite eye rolls going on, but I didn’t see a lot of backlash.
“As the day goes on, more beer starts to flow. That’s where you start to get the more obnoxious fans who are more aggressive. I wouldn’t say that alcohol made me yell, though. I would have yelled sober.”
Poulter’s suggestion isn’t without merit – and it’s one which players and the majority of fans have often pondered in recent years.
To wit: Why can’t tournaments do something about these people?
It’s a question which Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour’s executive vice president of communications, has frequently been asked lately.
“It’s lumped in with any behavior that affects the competition,” he answers. “Anything that influences the competition in a way that’s disruptive. I’m not sure shouting ‘mashed potatoes’ after a guy hits the ball is disruptive. It might be irksome, but it may not fall into that category of disruptive to the competition.”
What does that mean? In layman’s terms, if a fan yells while a competitor is in the act of playing a shot, he can be punished immediately. Anything yelled after impact, however, is considered well within the rights of the ticketholder.
Really, it’s all the PGA Tour can do. Attempting to castigate every single purveyor of a shout would be a losing battle before it started. Already the organization is trying to counteract cell phone photographers with a negligible workforce of tournament volunteers, each translating the rules slightly differently than the last. Punishing every single yeller would almost require a chaperone for each fan. In other words, it’s impossible.
Other organizing bodies are also taking notice.
“The last two or three weeks, it has been brought more to the forefront,” says Kerry Haigh, chief championships officer for the PGA of America. “The final round of our championship, we saw and observed a couple of occasions where players were affected by such comments. It’s something we’re reviewing and monitoring.
“It’s safe to say we do have some concerns over where it’s going and what may happen.”
For now, executives are left saying the right thing and hoping for the best.
“We want our fans to have fun, but we want them to be respectful of the players and their fellow fans,” Votaw continues. “We want them to have as much fun as they can possibly have while being respectful.”
YELLER: Jason Plepel
HOMETOWN: Wheaton, Ill.
TOURNAMENT: 2012 BMW Championship
“When Rory [McIlroy] hit his tee shot on 18 on Sunday, I yelled, ‘Swag!’ It wasn’t right as he hit; the ball was probably at the peak of its height, but you could still hear me on TV.
“I did it because I knew my parents and friends were watching on TV and I wanted to see if they could hear it. I think that’s why most people do it. I even texted them beforehand.
“People around you are going to look at you like, ‘Why did you just do that?’ But at the same time, people were yelling the whole time. I think people are used to it. I didn’t do it right at impact because I play golf myself. I’m not going to bother them with yelling.
“I’m happy I got on TV. I don’t regret it because I didn’t cause any harm. If I yelled and Rory said, ‘Hey don’t do that,’ then I would have regretted it.”
While the genesis of “MASHED POTATOES!!!” remains a mystery, there is no mistaking one of the more popular phrases screamed by fans in recent years.
“BABA BOOEY!!!” can be directly traced to shock jock Howard Stern – and his legions of fans understand how to make their presence known at public events.
Supporters of Stern aren’t unique to those outside the ropes. Keegan Bradley is an unabashed fanatic of the radio show and often encourages spectators to serenade him with the alliterative war cry.
His frequent Twitter foil and recent PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner only stoked the flames when he joined Stern’s show last week.
Stern: 'On the one hand, I understand golf is a game of concentration. And anybody yelling anything out is verboten. But it's usually after the guy hits. But does it ever enter your psyche, like, 'After I hit this ball, someone's going to yell Baba Booey?'”
Dufner: 'No, I never think of that. It doesn't bother me. Like you said, nobody does it while we're swinging or before we're swinging. It happens afterwards. Obviously, people are trying to get noticed. And clowning away that way. But sometimes the stuff is pretty funny that they say, you know?'
The radio host even went so far as to suggest Dufner offer his own “Baba Booey” scream after a tee shot, a scenario which would leave most golf traditionalists shaking in their plus-fours.
Just the fact that Stern was talking about the subject with a high-profile golfer could be enough to send ripples through the gallery.
If Widmar’s shout was the tipping point and the PGA Championship was the boiling point, this week’s Barclays could serve as the breaking point. With all of the game’s top players in attendance at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J. – quite possibly the Baba Booey capital of the world – there’s a sense that this tournament could be the most boisterous we’ve seen in a long time.
YELLER: Evan Perkins
HOMETOWN: Mount Sterling, Ky.
TOURNAMENT: 2012 PGA Championship
“A few of us went to Kiawah for the weekend and we went to the tournament on Sunday. One of our buddies didn’t get to go. His last name is Kubajak, so we made a bet to see if we could get his name on TV.
“Once we realized Rory [McIlroy] was getting the most TV pub, we sat by the green on 15. It was my friend who yelled it, but there were a few instances of it on TV that day.
“As obnoxious as we were, we were at least trying to give a respectful time after his swing or putt. But yeah, it’s still obnoxious. We had some people looking over at us. Definitely got a few stares, but nobody said anything. It was fun, but it’s slightly childish. We were young and we still are. I don’t think it had any effect, though. I would hope nobody heard us doing it and thought it sounded like a great idea and said, ‘We’re going to do that, too.’
“We were watching the PGA this year and realized how obnoxious people were on TV. We were like, ‘Yeah, that was us last year.’”
There is a definitive disconnect taking place here. The majority of golf fans hear an untimely shout and threaten, “If I ever meet one of those guys face-to-face …” cutting themselves off to allow the mind to wonder just what spiteful displays of physical protest they would offer. Meanwhile, the yellers interviewed claim that not only haven’t they been threatened, they usually draw a few chuckles from their ticketholder brethren.
At some point, something’s got to give.
Until then, here’s where we stand on spectators hurling strange outbursts at golf tournaments: There is a percentage of them – small as it may be – who enjoy doing this. The competitors can’t stop them. The individual tournaments can’t stop them. And so they continue.
When does this transcend annoyance and become an issue? Exactly when, in the words of Votaw, it begins to disrupt the competition.
With more and more fans not only trying to outdo each other in sheer creativity and loudness, but also immediacy, it may just be a matter of time before a scream comes directly at impact during a crucial moment. When it does, the rush to judgment will be swift, though we’ll at least understand the impossibility of monitoring it all.
Two years ago, Widmar and his buddies waited until Woods’ tee shot had taken flight before screaming, “MASHED POTATOES!!!” They were hardly the first to yell at a golf tournament, but the esoteric shout has directly led to an influx of similar shouts ever since.
As for Widmar, he doesn’t regret anything about it – other than the fact that he wasn’t able to profit off his now-infamous cry.
“It would be nice if I could get credited every time it happened,” he laments. “If I could get royalties on ‘mashed potatoes,’ that would be awesome.”