Spending a WMPO Saturday with the ‘Quiet Sign’ Guy

Tom MackinJanuary 4, 2023
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What’s it like spending WMPO’s busiest day with Thunderbird Jock Holliman at the tournament’s rowdiest hole? 

The 68-year-old Oklahoma native calls TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole “the energy center of the golf universe” during tournament week, and he should know. Holliman first served as its marshal in 1997, when he witnessed Tiger’s memorable ace, and has remained a dedicated if largely unsuccessful suppressor of spectator noise on the 16th ever since. We did a Saturday ride-along with the legendary crowd-husher at last year’s WM Phoenix Open.  

8:48 a.m. Holliman eats breakfast in a Thunderbirds-only enclave overlooking the 18th green. One issue: a PA system speaker on 16 malfunctioned during testing on Thursday, so the PGA TOUR kiboshed Holliman’s usual use of a microphone to help quiet the crowd. “Not a problem,” he says. “We have grown to use it less and less over the years because I believe the crowd has become more respectful. We’ve had fewer incidents of people yelling during the player’s backswings.” 

9:10 a.m. He makes a prediction: “This will be a boring day.” Hmmmm.

10:15 a.m. Holliman walks from the clubhouse through the growing crowd. One tradition he enjoys en route to his post on 16: stop by the driving range to watch players hit balls. Holliman’s favorite swing? South African Louis Oosthuizen.

10:31 a.m. Holliman goes over badge protocol with members of the PRO EM Events team who help control access to the tunnel leading to 16th tee. “On the weekend we try to accommodate the other non-immediate family members by taking them up into a skybox so they can watch the shot and then get to 17,” Holliman says. “For TV purposes, we really try to lock the tunnel down and not have a lot of people standing around the tee box.”

10:40 a.m. Walking onto a very sunny tee box at 16, we hear an audible buzz running through the stands as corporate suites fill up. It’s a bit louder down at the general admission grandstand behind the green, where seats are famously filled by 7:15 a.m. 

10:45 a.m. With help from the staff, Holliman moves a water cooler next to the tee box, which is marked by two miniature, green Waste Management sanitation trucks. 16 is playing just 124 yards today, but flags on top of grandstands show a steady breeze into player’s faces. 

10:50 a.m. Holliman fist-bumps with Colt Knost, a former PGA Tour player (and a fellow Southern Methodist University graduate) turned CBS Sports announcer. “I know him from Whisper Rock [the ultra-private Scottsdale golf club where both are members]. He’s a terrific young man and has an incredibly articulate and fun mind. I think he has a very bright future in golf commentating.” Knost is working with broadcaster Amanda Balionis from a mini-set located just to the right of the tee box.

11 a.m. The seasoned Thunderbird climbs a stairwell into the lower grandstand section left of the tee box to say hello to Mike Leonard, leader of a 40-fan crew who treks from Minnesota annually for the tournament. “Jock brought over a bunch of QUIET signs to us around 2005, and we’ve been friends ever since,” Leonard says. “We text a couple of times a year, and I have even sent him a Christmas card, too.”

Photos courtesy WMPO
Photos courtesy WMPO

11:17 a.m. Holliman has the tee box to himself and gazes down at the green. Everything appears to be in place.

11:21 a.m. The Minnesota crew sings the national anthem prior to the first group coming through, one of its many annual traditions. Holliman faces them from the tee box with his Green Clover visor held over his heart. “They’re good kids.” 

11:22 a.m. The first tee shot of the day on 16 by Stewart Cink stops on the front portion of the green, eliciting a roar from the crowd. Holliman chats briefly with Cink afterward: “I wanted to make sure that he knew we got his wife and kids onto the hole.” Cink would par the hole and finish T43 overall. “On Thursday and Friday, with a fuller field and a little less tension in the air, I’ll talk to seven or eight players and a handful of caddies,” Holliman says. “On the weekend, it’s pretty much all business. You let them focus on that and just try to help them any way you can. Try to keep the crowd courteous and respectful when they lock down on their shot and address the ball.”

11:26 A.m. Knost walks over to Holliman and says, “You might as well put that QUIET sign away.” Holliman demurs and continues to raise it before every tee shot.

12:36 p.m. Fellow Thunderbird Dan Fox, who shares marshal duties on the hole with Holliman, takes over the tee area. The older man sits down in a folding chair right of the tee box and recounts the reaction to the most recent ace here in 2015 by Francesco Molinari. “There were Coors Light Silver Bullet beer cans everywhere,” he says. “Took us 20 minutes to clear all of those off the tee and green.” 

1:00 p.m. Holliman leaves the tee area through the player’s tunnel and walks up to the hospitality area overlooking the 16th for a lunch of chicken and rice washed down by some Dasani water. Exchanges hellos with various Thunderbirds. 

1:35 p.m. Harry Higgs gets a large roar from the crowd and eggs them on while preparing to hit his tee shot. “The issue is when a player wants the noise up, it’s hard to keep the noise up while he hits the shot,” Holliman says. “The crowd will initially roar, then the decibel level begins to calm down, and then you only hope that someone doesn’t yell at the wrong time. We’ve reached an equilibrium for the most part with the white noise created by the crowd, and the players are fine with it. We’re just trying to keep that one knucklehead who doesn’t understand golf etiquette from popping off at the wrong time.”

2:49 p.m. Sam Ryder’s 54-degree wedge shot from the tee box hits the green just right of the flagstick and spins back into the hole for a hole in one. Sheer bedlam ensues as fans go berserk. Holliman runs to the left side of the tee box waving his arms at the fans while getting in front of Brian Harman and his caddie. “I didn’t want them to get hit by anything,” Holliman says, referring to the beer cups, cans of water and ice cubes that rained down from the sky boxes. Holliman joins multiple Thunderbirds and other volunteers in cleaning up the tee and green areas, including raking the front left greenside bunker. “That was the one getting the most play. I’m a very accomplished bunker raker from my own game. I’ve learned how to do it from the caddies up at Whisper Rock.” 

4:01 p.m. The final group of the day arrives at the tee: Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Sahith Theegala. All three would finish tied for third overall the next day. Stands are half full, and noise level is down a good few decibels.

4:03 p.m. Play concludes for the day at the 16th. Holliman sorts out the tee box. His immediate plans now that the workday is done? “I’m going to wander.” He visits the Golf Channel set overlooking the hole, and then moves on to a Thunderbird-only area of the Greenskeeper tent overlooking 18 to catch up with friends. He does a final check-in at the Thunderbird trailer in the clubhouse parking lot. 

6:30 p.m. Holliman leaves the course. He later confirms he has no plans to quit his role on 16. “Why would I give up the most fun job in the golf world?” he says. “Seeing these guys in competition and watching their golf swings up close while enjoying the fans, I mean really? Every Sunday night of the tournament I hibernate and say I will never do this again. I just curl up and watch the Super Bowl. Then the tournament starts to roll around and I think, ‘You know what? It really is fun.’ The thing I enjoy is seeing the same people every year. I’ll do it as long as I am able to because I’m blessed to do it.”