More to Jungle Bird than meets the eye

By Jason SobelDecember 18, 2012, 2:19 pm

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.

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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.”

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Woods' final round is highest-rated FEC telecast ever

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 24, 2018, 9:05 pm

We've heard it a million times: Tiger Woods doesn't just move the needle, he IS the needle.

Here's more proof.

NBC Sports Group's final-round coverage of Woods claiming his 80th career victory in the Tour Championship earned a 5.21 overnight rating, making it the highest-rated telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs and the highest-rated PGA Tour telecast in 2018 (excluding majors).

The rating was up 206 percent over 2017's Tour Championship.

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Coverage peaked from 5:30-6PM ET (7.19) as Woods finished his round and as Justin Rose was being crowned the FedExCup champion. That number trailed only the 2018 peaks for the Masters (11.03) and PGA Championship (8.28). The extended coverage window (1:30-6:15 PM ET) posted a 4.35 overnight rating, which is the highest-rated Tour Championship telecast on record.

Sunday’s final round also saw 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports Digital platforms (up 561 percent year-over-year), and becomes the most-streamed NBC Sports Sunday round (excluding majors) on record.

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Randall's Rant: Woods' comeback story ranks No. 1

By Randall MellSeptember 24, 2018, 8:40 pm

We’re marveling again.

This time over the essence of the man as much as the athlete, over what Tiger Woods summoned to repair, rebuild and redeem himself, after scandal and injury so ruinously rocked his career.

We watched in wonder Sunday as Woods completed the greatest comeback in the history of sport.

That’s how we’re ranking this reconstruction of a champion. (See the rankings below.)

We marveled over the admiration that flooded into the final scene of his victory at the Tour Championship, over the wave of adoring fans who enveloped him as he marched up the 18th fairway.

This celebration was different from his coronation, when he won the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, or his masterpiece, when he won the U.S. Open by 15 shots in 2000, or his epic sweep, when he won at Augusta National in ’01 to claim his fourth consecutive major championship title.

The awe back then was over how invincible Woods could seem in a sport where losing is the week-to-week norm, over how he could decimate the competition as no other player ever has.

The awe today is as much over the transformed nature of the rebuilt man.

It’s about what he has overcome since his aura of invincibility was decimated in the disgrace of a sex scandal, in the humiliation of a videotape of a DUI arrest, in the pain of four back surgeries and four knee surgeries and in the maddening affliction of chipping yips and driving and putting woes.

The wonder is also in imagining the fierce inventory of self-examination that must have been grueling, and in the mustering of inner strength required to overcome foes more formidable than Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and today’s other stars.

It’s in Woods overcoming shame, ridicule, doubt and probably some despair to rebuild his life outside the game before he could rebuild his life in the game.

Woods may never let us know the detail or depth of those inner challenges, of what helped him prevail in his more spiritual battles, because he’s still fiercely private. He may never share the keys to rebuilding his sense of himself, but he’s more open than he has ever been. He shares more than he ever has.

As a father of two children, as a mentor to so many of today’s young players, there’s more depth to the picture of this champion today. There also is more for fans to relate to in his struggles than his success. There’s more of the larger man to marvel over.

The greatest comebacks in the history of sports:

1. Tiger Woods

Four back surgeries and four knee surgeries are just part of the story. It’s why Woods ranks ahead of Ben Hogan. Woods’ comeback was complicated by so many psychological challenges, by the demon doubts created in his sex scandal and DUI arrest. There was shame and ridicule to overcome on a public stage. And then there were the chipping yips, and the driving and putting woes.

2. Ben Hogan

On Feb. 2, 1949, a Greyhound bus attempting to pass a truck slammed head on into Hogan’s Cadillac on a Texas highway. Hogan probably saved his life throwing himself over the passenger side to protect his wife, Valerie. He suffered a double fracture of the pelvis, a cracked rib, a fractured collarbone and a broken ankle, but it was a blood clot that nearly killed him a few weeks later. Hogan needed 16 months to recover but would return triumphantly to win the 1950 U.S. Open and five more majors after that.

3. Niki Lauda

In the bravest sporting comeback ever, Lauda returned to grand prix racing 38 days after his Ferrari burst into flames in a crash in a race in Germany in 1976. Disfigured from severe burns, the reigning Formula One world champion was back behind the wheel at the Italian Grand Prix, finishing fourth. He won the world championship again in ’77 and ’84.

4. Greg LeMond

In 1987, LeMond was shot and nearly killed in a hunting accident. Two years later, he won his second Tour de France title. A year after that, he won it again.

5. Babe Zaharias

In 1953, Babe Zaharias underwent surgery for colon cancer. A year later, she won the U.S. Women’s Open wearing a colostomy bag. She also went on to win the Vare Trophy for low scoring average that year.

6. Monica Seles

Away from tennis for two years after being stabbed with a knife between the shoulder blades during a match in Germany, Seles won in her return to competition at the 1995 Canadian Open. She was the highest ranked women’s tennis player in the world at the time of the attack.

7. Lance Armstrong

After undergoing chemotherapy treatment in a battle with potentially fatal metastatic testicular cancer in 1996, Armstrong recovered and went on to win seven Tour de France titles. Of course, the comeback wasn’t viewed in the same light after he was stripped of all those titles after being implicated in a doping conspiracy.

8. Mario Lemieux

In the middle of the 1992-93 season, the Pittsburgh Penguins star underwent radiation treatment for Hodgkin disease and missed 20 games. Making a start the same day as his last treatment, Lemieux scored a goal and assist. The Penguins would go on a 17-game winning streak after his return and Lemieux would lead the league in scoring and win the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

9. Peyton Manning

Multiple neck surgeries and a spinal fusion kept Manning from playing with the Indianapolis Colts for the entire 2011 season. He was released before the 2012 season and signed with the Denver Broncos. He won his fifth NFL MVP Award in ’13 and helped the Broncos win the Super Bowl in the ’15 season.

10. Bethany Hamilton

A competitive surfer at 13, Hamilton lost her left arm in a shark attack in Hawaii. A month later, she was surfing again. Less than two years later, she was a national champion.

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Woods' win makes us wonder, what's next?

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 24, 2018, 6:35 pm

The red shirt and ground-shaking roars.

The steely glare and sweet swings.

The tactical precision and ruthless efficiency.

If not for the iPhone-wielding mob following his every move, you’d swear that golf had been transported to the halcyon days of the early 2000s.

The Tiger Time Machine kicked into overdrive at East Lake, where Woods won for the first time in 1,876 days and suddenly put two of the sport’s most hallowed numbers – 82 and 18 – back in play.

“I didn’t understand how people could say he lost this and lost that,” said Hank Haney, Woods’ former swing coach. “He is so good. He’s Tiger Woods. He’s won 79 times. If he can swing, he can win again.”

The only disappointing part of win No. 80 is that Woods will have to wait four months for another meaningful chance to build upon it. That’s a shame, because all of the pieces are in place for him to make a sustained run, and the Tour Championship might just be the start of an unimaginable final act.

A season that began with questions about whether a 42-year-old Woods could survive a full schedule with no setbacks ended with him saving his best for last, when his younger, healthier peers seemed to be gassed. Taking his recovery week by week, Woods ended up making 18 starts – his second-heaviest workload since 2005 – and never publicly complained of any discomfort, only the occasional stiffness that comes with having a fused lower spine.

Remember when Woods’ tanking world ranking was punch-line material? Now he’s all the way up to No. 13 – not bad for a guy who was 1,199th when he returned to competition last December at the Hero World Challenge. Nowhere close to reaching his 40-event minimum divisor, he’ll continue to accrue points and charge up the rankings, putting the game’s top players on notice.

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The victory at East Lake moves Woods only two shy of Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour wins record (82), a goal that seemed unthinkable a year and a half ago, when he was bedridden following the Hail Mary fusion surgery. And for those wondering whether he’s capable of chasing down Big Jack, remember that Woods almost picked off two majors this summer, at Carnoustie and Bellerive, with a body and swing that was constantly evolving. 

Indeed, in an era of TrackMans and coaching stables designed to maximize a player’s performance, Woods has refreshingly gone back to his roots. It always seemed incongruous, watching the game’s most brilliant golf mind scrutinize down-the-line swing video, and so this year he has been a solo act, relying on old feels to guide his new move. The credit for this resurgence is his alone. 

Sure, there were growing pains, lots of them, and for months each tournament turned into golf’s version of Whack-a-Mole, as yet another issue arose. The two clubs that most consistently held Woods back were his driver and putter, but recent improvements portend well for the future.

After wayward tee shots cost him the PGA, Woods changed the loft and shaft on his TaylorMade driver. For years, even while injured, he violently attacked the ball in a vain attempt to hang with the big hitters. But these tweaks to his gamer (resulting in lower swing speed and carry distance) were a concession that accuracy was more vital to his success than power. His newfound discipline was rewarded: He ended the season with four consecutive weeks of positive strokes gained: off the tee statistics, and on Sunday he put on a clinic while Rory McIlroy, one of the game’s preeminent drivers, thrashed around in the trees. Woods is still plenty long, closing out his victory with a 348-yard rocket on 18, and from the middle of the fairway he can rely on his vintage iron play. 

His troubles with the putter weren’t as quick of a fix. Frustrated with his inconsistent performance on the greens, Woods briefly flirted with other models before rekindling his love affair with his old Scotty Cameron, the trusty putter with which he’s won 13 of his 14 majors. It’s exceedingly rare for a player to overcome the frayed nerve endings and putt better in his 40s than his 30s, but Woods was downright masterful on East Lake’s greens.

“It’s more satisfaction than anything,” said Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava. “People have no idea how much work he put into this.”

By almost any statistical measure, Woods’ season-long numbers suggest that he’s already back among the game’s elite – even after struggling to walk and swing for the past four years. He’s the best iron player in the game. He finished the season ranked seventh in strokes gained: tee to green. And after his normally stellar short game went MIA for a few years, his play around the greens appeared as sharp as ever.

And so on Sunday, while watching Woods school the top 30 players on Tour, even Johnny Miller got caught up in the latest edition of Tigermania.

“He’s not looking like he could win a couple more,” Miller said. “He’s looking like he could win A LOT more.”

Where Woods’ story is headed – to No. 1 in the world, to the top of Mt. Nicklaus, to the operating table – is anyone’s guess, because this comeback has already defied any reasonable logic or expectation.

He’s come back from confidence-shattering performances at Phoenix (chip yips) and Memorial (85) and even his own media-day event where he humiliatingly rinsed a series of wedge shots.

He’s come back from four back surgeries and pain so debilitating that his kids once found him face down in the backyard; pain so unbearable that he used to keep a urine bucket next to his bed, because he couldn’t schlep his battered body to the bathroom.

He’s come back from an addiction so deep that in May 2017 police found him slumped over the steering wheel of his Mercedes, five drugs coursing through his system, a shocking and sad DUI arrest that was the catalyst for this clear-eyed comeback.

All of the months of unhappiness and uncertainty nearly came pouring out afterward – the culmination of a remarkable journey from turmoil to redemption that ranks among the most unlikely in sports history. Woods fought back tears as thousands formed a big green mosh pit and chanted his name, a surreal scene even for this larger-than-life legend. Hugging LaCava, Woods said into his caddie’s ear, over and over: “We did it! We did it! We did it!” 

“He’s pumped up,” LaCava said later. “I’ve never seen him this excited.”

And not just for this moment, but for the future.

The prospects are as tantalizing as ever. 

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DJ may keep cross-handed grip for Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 4:29 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – As he’s proven in the past Dustin Johnson isn’t averse to switching things up when it comes to his putting, but this was extreme even for him.

Johnson switched to a cross-handed grip on the sixth hole during Saturday’s third round at the Tour Championship and continued to use the same grip through the final round.

It was the first time he’d putted cross-handed in competition and the first time he switched his grip mid-round.

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“I did it a few times on the putting green. Sometimes I do it on the putting green just to get my setup a little bit better because it just levels out my shoulders,” said Johnson, who closed his week at East Lake with a 67 and finished alone in third place. “I was putting well. I hit some bad putts for the first five holes, so after I hit a really bad putt for eagle on 6, the next one I tried it, I made it, so I kept it going.”

Johnson, who moved back into the top spot in the World Golf Ranking thanks to his third-place finish, was encouraged by his putting on the weekend but he was vague when asked if he planned to putt cross-handed this week at the Ryder Cup.

“We're going to stick with it for now. We'll try it,” he said.