ORLANDO, FL --- Something seemed a little bit off -- like a table that wobbles, a toilet that runs periodically, or a rattle in a car. Nothing major, mind you, but enough to make it fell out of sync.
The TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins match was the first live televised golf competition since COVID-19 shut down the sports world nine weeks earlier. So, maybe it was the newness of it. Perhaps we TV spectators were just a little rusty, much like a batter coming off a long layoff. Maybe we just needed to get back into TV-viewing shape, watch a few more live sporting events to get “our eye” back.
Still, the telecast appeared a little odd, a little weird even. Something you just couldn’t put your finger on.
Was it that there were no fans, in keeping with social-distancing guidelines? No asinine shouts from spectators urging the ball to “get in the hole” as a golfer tees off on a 600-yard hole? No “Gary Koch describing the action on 16” nor “David Feherty in the tower at the 17th green”? Was it the lack of caddies, with the players all carrying their own bags (which looked noticeably smaller than the 50-pound behemoths that a pro’s caddy usually lugs around)?
No, it was something else. Things just looked a bit off.
Then it hit you: all four players (Matthew Wolff, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, and Rory McIlroy) were wearing shorts, instead of tailored and neatly pressed pants. Players in shorts during a professional golf match, you say? Never. Somewhere, late golf champions like Harry Vardon and Gene Sarazen -- who often wore flannel trousers or knickers, and shirt-and-tie when competing -- must have been shaking their heads. A properly dressed golfer, they’d say, would never appear in shorts.
Time, and Change, Marches On
Change occurs at an almost glacial pace in golf. Six hundred years after the Scots invented the game, it remains basically the same. Most of the changes have been with the equipment.
This sport, more than any other, protects its traditions zealously, much as President Trump guards against the release of his income tax returns. The United States Golf Association, the PGA Tour, and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews all take their responsibilities as stewards of the game seriously. Even the smallest of changes are analyzed, studied, and debated for years before enactment.
But change is inevitable for even this most parochial of sports. Persimmon-wood-and-steel-shaft clubs give way to metal-headed woods with fiberglass shafts; iron clubs are replaced by ones that look like woods but play like irons; shirts and ties are replaced by sports shirts; plain, collared sports shirts give way to shirts with multiple corporate logos; metal-spikes shoes are out and “spikeless” plastic-cleat footwear is in; and after going almost 80 years without admitting any female members, last year Augusta National Golf Club hosted a tournament for women.
Time marches on and with it brings change. And, so it is time to drag the PGA Tour’s dress code into the 21st century. The Tour should allow its members to wear shorts during tournament play.
To be fair, the Tour has made strides. In 1999, it ruled that when the heat index tops 100, caddies may wear shorts instead of their usual bib overalls during competitive round. Last year, the Tour authorized players to wear shorts during practice rounds and pro-ams, but not during tournament play (the European Tour adopted that same policy in 2016).
That’s a start, but it needs to go a step further. The PGA Tour should once again follow the lead of the European Tour, which approved players to wear shorts for the first time during a tournament in South Africa last November.
As temperatures hovered around 104 degrees that week, tournament officials made the common-sense move to adjust the dress code. “In these temperatures, it can be pretty uncomfortable out there in trousers,” David Williams, the European Tour’s tournament director, told the Associated Press. “(The high temperatures are) uncomfortable and could be a health issue for the players. We felt in this situation, it was the right move (to allow shorts).”
“It’s been talked about for so long on all of the tours around the world,” four-time majors champion Ernie Els said of the move. “I think this could be a game-changer for golf which could end up enhancing the product.”
Writing for Golfweek, noted golf writer/historian Curt Sampson pointed out that twice the PGA Tour has made short-term concessions to hot, humid summer weather and let golfers wear shorts during tournament play: first at an event outside of Memphis in 1945, and the second 10 years later outside of Chicago.
But, when one player in that 1955 tournament showed up wearing an outfit that more resembled a bathing suit, Sampson wrote, the ban on shorts returned the next day. And has remained.
Bring Out the Shorts
As the PGA Tour prepares to resume play June 11 at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, it enters a portion of its schedule where tournaments routinely are played in weather that features high humidity and hot temperatures. Now’s a good time for the Tour to amend its dress code: allow shorts during tournament play whenever the heat index reaches 100, or even when the temperature reaches 85 degrees.
It’s a health issue for the players, as much as one of comfort. Allowing shorts in hot weather should be a no-brainer.
In a Facebook Live interview in 2018, Tiger Woods said, “We usually travel with the sun, and a lot of our events are played in the summer, and then on top of that when we have the winter months here a lot of guys go down to South Africa and Australia where it’s summer down there.
“Also, a lot of the tournaments are based right around the equator so we play in some of the hottest places on the planet. It would be nice to wear shorts.”
Many golf organizations around the world let their players wear shorts. Even the conservative USGA allows shorts in many of its tournaments (though it follows PGA Tour rules regarding attire for the U.S. Open). Yet, the Tour continues a dress code that states, “Shorts or denim are not permitted to be worn by male competitors. Khakis or slacks and collared shirts must be worn by all male players.”
Both the USGA and the PGA Tour long have expressed the importance of appealing to younger fans as a way of growing the sport. Many amateurs wear shorts during their weekend rounds; seeing the pros playing in shorts will help the viewers better relate to the players and possibly increase interest in the game.
So, why does the PGA Tour hold out and insist that golfers wear khakis or slacks during tournament play? Image and tradition. The button-down Tour is concerned that players in shorts will look “unprofessional.” Image still counts on the PGA Tour, sometimes at the expense of player comfort.
It’s easy enough to alleviate those concerns. Simply implement the same dress code standards for shorts that are in place for the practice rounds and pro-ams: that shorts be tailored, neat in appearance, and knee-length. Player comfort and “a professional appearance” need not be mutually exclusive.
There was no harm done when the four golfers wore shorts during the TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins match. Golf etiquette didn’t dissolve when the tournament in South Africa let players don shorts for the first time. Likewise, the Tour will not crumble by letting the players ditch the long pants in hot weather.
The PGA Tour needs to re-think its no-shorts policy. “There are traditions in golf that will always be upheld,” Thomas Bjorn, the Team Europe captain in the 2018 Ryder Cup, told Reuters. “But we also need to try and make it easier for kids to get involved in the game and move with the times.”
Letting the pros play in shorts would be a small step.
Even the most change-resistant organizations realize the need to move with the times. There is no need for this common-sense change to be analyzed, studied and debated at length. Now is the time for the PGA Tour to update its dress code to allow the players to wear shorts during tournaments, when appropriate because of hot weather.
“I would love it,” Woods said. “Even with my little chicken legs, I still would like to wear shorts.”
And, we’d get use to it; just as we’ve adjusted to seeing golf shirts that are essentially billboards, and drivers with monster-size clubheads.
Dennis Richardson is a writer/editor with Words Matter. He has an extensive background as a reporter, copy editor, sportswriter, sports copy editor, and Senior Special Sections Writer with newspapers in Missouri and Florida. He lives outside of Orlando, FL.
Photo credit: Lo Sarno/Unsplash.com