Golf tournaments are generally quiet affairs, where fans are expected to be fluent in the etiquette of a sport that affords silence as each player pulls his club, swings through the ball and follows its path.
That moment of silence, however, is increasingly being breached. Anyone attending the Barclays tournament this week or watching on TV will notice a new and seemingly out-of-place fan behavior during those quiet moments after a player completes his swing: the frequent shouting of remarks like “You the man!,” “In the hole!” and, the current favorite for no good reason, “Mashed potatoes!”
Golf continues to hew to tenets of silence that seem virtually unenforceable in every other public arena in the cellphone age, and therefore poses an irresistible challenge to those yearning to be heard. The crowds, which are as dense as a PATH train at rush hour to see Tiger Woods, a 14-time major winner who is one of the most famous athletes in the world, provide a cover of anonymity that emboldens those who want to be heard but not necessarily seen.
“It’s kind of a shame because golf was the last bastion of decorum,” the tour veteran Jerry Kelly said, “and now it’s not.”
The fans shouting to be heard are attention seekers from the same family tree that produced Rollen Stewart, whose thirst for fame in the late 1970s spurred him to attend major sporting events, including the Super Bowl and the Masters, wearing a rainbow-colored Afro-style wig and positioning himself where the television cameras could not avoid him.
Stewart’s immediate descendants were the fans in the 1990s of John Daly. The chain-smoking, long-hitting, six-pack-abs-eschewing Daly won two majors and developed a rabid following that included fans who shouted “You da man” after each of his prodigious drives.
Christian End, an associate professor of psychology at Xavier University who specializes in fan behavior, said: “Probably part of their motivation is to get their 15 minutes of fame. Every time they show a television clip of a shot where the individual who yelled can clearly be heard, that person is kind of part of that event. They are in a way a part of sports history.”
In December 2011, Andrew Widmar, then a member of the Pepperdine golf team, was with a few friends at the tournament in Southern California that Woods annually hosts. Woods arrived at the 18th tee, where Widmar had positioned himself, needing a birdie to end a two-year victory drought.
After Woods made contact with the ball, Widmar inserted himself into the drama of the moment by breaking the silence with a shout of “mashed potatoes.” While more original than “You da man,” he could not claim it as his own; Widmar had heard it in the background of a YouTube video. Had Woods not had a chance to catch Zach Johnson, “I wouldn’t have wasted my breath,” he said.
When Woods went on to make a birdie to seal the long-awaited victory, Widmar’s voice became a part of the TV highlights package, spawning a generation of imitators. In an e-mail exchange, he said his motivation was to gain the attention of a small group of his friends and not the wider world of golf.
“I don’t see this as being a ‘look at me, I’m ridiculous’ thing,” Widmar said. “No one is going to do it to get any kind of national or global recognition for shouting something absurd.” He added, “The cameramen aren’t ever going to spin around and focus on the ‘mashed potatoes’ guy.”
Jim Furyk, at the Barclays on Thursday, said a fan distracted him on the 16th tee during the third round of the P.G.A. Championship.
The shift in golf fans’ behavior is not unlike the transformation of the rock ‘n’ roll scene in the early 1970s, when the intimate concert experience gave way to the impersonal stadium spectacle.
In his new book, “What You Want Is in the Limo,” the author Michael Walker explores the evolution of rock stars, led by Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin and the Who, from high-minded performers who were happy to eke out a living to highly paid entertainers with entourages and private jets and security staffs.
The larger crowds, Walker said, created a physical and emotional distance between the performers and their audiences, which some fans tried to bridge with rebel yells. Their “Mashed Potatoes” equivalent was “Free Bird,” the title of a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, or “Whipping Post,” an Allman Brothers tune, which people would shout out at concerts not involving either Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Allman Brothers Band.
Cooper, an avid golfer who was part of the pro-am field at this year’s tour stop outside Palm Springs, Calif., applauds the noisemakers in the crowds. “I think golf is missing the boat by not having everyone yelling at the same time,” he said by e-mail. “When everything is dead quiet and someone clicks a camera, it’s distracting. When everyone’s making noise, there’s no startling noise.”
Besides, he added: “Anytime you’re told not to make noise, you want to make noise. I think it’s something like a pure tribal mentality. Some people just can’t keep quiet, and usually the ones who make the most noise are the ones who’ve had the most beer. That’s true pretty much at all sporting events and concerts.”
The oohs and aahs from the crowd after well-struck shots and the gasps after the bad ones add richness to a telecast, which is why television producers are loath to throw out the color with the colorless comments. Tommy Roy, the NBC Sports golf producer, said: “There really isn’t a filter that will eliminate that. I suppose you could have a four-second delay. We sort of pride ourselves on being live all the time. While there are idiots out there who shout these things to where it’s distracting and unbecoming for golf, it’s not to the point where it’s so offensive we have to shut our audio off.”