Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The startling truth about fan noise

Posted By on 03.27.12 at 07:05 AM

Quiet . . . quiet . . . SCREAM!
  • Domenic Gareri/ Shutterstock.com
  • Quiet . . . quiet . . . SCREAM!
When Tiger Woods began his backswing on the 15th tee, the crowd was, of course, hushed. It was the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Saturday at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando. Woods had a three-stroke lead, and appeared to be cruising to his first championship since 2009.

But when Tiger reached the top of his backswing, a woman screamed. (True, her son had fainted—but couldn't she have held off a half second?) Tiger chopped downward, took a hacker's divot, and yanked the ball out of bounds. He double-bogeyed the par-four hole, his first double bogey this year in 248 holes. (He now has one more double bogey this year than most Chicago golfers.)

Notwithstanding his troubles since 2009, Tiger is one of the world's greatest golfers, and renowned for his concentration. He recovered from the OB drive and went on to win the tournament. Yet that one scream, reportedly not even bloodcurdling, almost derailed him. Such is the power of noise.

Or, more precisely, unexpected noise. For if the custom at golf courses was the same as in basketball arenas and at football fields, hockey rinks, and baseball parks, the scream wouldn't have bothered Tiger at all.

Imagine Tiger on the tee, and his fans roaring their support as he addresses the ball. "Let's go, Ti-ger," he hears on his backswing; and, on his downswing, a staccato clap, clap—clap-clap-clap. Fans could holler, cell phones sing, beer drinkers belch—no problem: Tiger would calmly launch his drive down the middle. This would take a transitional period, sure, but Tiger and his PGA comrades would adjust. Even on the greens they'd soon be unaffected. Steady noise is probably easier for an athlete to deal with than silence, because it's more dependable.

Fans of sports teams don't understand this. They believe the best fans are the loudest ones, and so they make noise indiscriminately. But as with the athletes themselves, timing is everything.

If Bulls fans appreciated this, they could help their team win an NBA championship this season. Instead of making a racket every time LeBron steps to the free throw line during the playoffs, they should usually zip it. The United Center's Diamond Vision scoreboard could lead the way: "Let's make some SILENCE!" The rare stillness itself might throw LeBron off. And every now and then, right before he releases the ball—piercing screams and air horns.

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