Who is Gold Man? Bizarre special effect on Players broadcast amuses, mystifies golf fans

gold man from players championship

Now on the tee ... Gold Man.

NBC/Golf Channel

Critics have long panned golf broadcasts for not keeping up with the times.

On Thursday, NBC/Golf Channel took a bold step into the future with its broadcast from the first round of the Players Championship when an animated version of the Players trophy — a miniature golden golfer atop a pedestal — seemingly came to life and struck a tee shot on the Stadium course’s island-green 17th hole. It was scene straight out of a trippy sci-fi flick, a didn’t-see-that-coming special effect that left golf fans amused, awed and mystified.

But mostly mystified.

Golf viewers have grown accustomed to seeing Shot Tracer, wind gauges and advanced putt-break technology on their screens. But this was, well … something else. It’s called “mixed reality,” a real-time 3D rendering that appears to be merging with the outside world. The trophy’s likeness — and swing — is a blend of past Players winners, including Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler, with “details down to the reflection of the trophy’s gold exterior matching the existing position of the sun,” the Tour said in statement.

Perplexed? You’re not alone. Social media reaction to the “golden man” was swift and voluminous.

By Friday, the figurine had become a full-blown Golf Twitter celebrity. The joke came full circle when one of the PGA Tour’s own handles produced a meme.

Naturally, the little fella even got his own personal account:

Golf isn’t the first sport to work mixed reality into a broadcast. Last year the Carolina Panthers conjured an imposing mixed-reality panther that bounded into the stadium and tore down a New York Jets banner.

“​​I think as we head into the Players every year, we’re always looking for the new way we can push technology,” Anne Detlefsen, senior director, digital content, for the PGA Tour, said in a statement. “We thought about a way we could not just do it for the sake of throwing mixed reality into our broadcast, but really add some extra layers of storytelling to it.”

Gold man’s star turn is just getting going. On Saturday’s Players broadcast, he is scheduled to reappear on the 17th hole and recreate Tiger Woods famed “Better than most” putt from the 2001 Players. On Sunday, he’ll channel a victorious Fowler, from the 2015 edition.

Here’s hoping he has rain gear.

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.