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A sartorial history of the game’s biggest trendsetters

April 22, 2024
Puerto Rican golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez smoking and putting, circa 1966.  (Photo by Leonard Kamsler/Popperfoto via Getty Images)

Close your eyes and picture a golfer. Are you imagining the human equivalent of a single man’s “laundry chair” piled with polyester? It’s hard to blame you. For certain periods of time, golf’s redeeming qualities in style were nearly non-existent. Form and function need not combine, most golfers thought.

However, a new spotlight on the game has brought with it an interest in the aesthetic surrounding country-club sports, and through this lens, it’s easier to see the sartorial highlights of golf’s golden past. Golfers and the brands that dress them today are leaning into the long plackets and accentuated collars of the 1970s, the baggy silhouettes of the 1990s and the radical, punk attitude that Tiger Woods infused into the game in the early aughts. Finally, the best looks of golf’s past are being re-imagined and re-applied to golf in 2024.

The result is that there has never been a better time to get dressed to go play than right now. No matter how you found the game or what your uniform looked like before you first stepped onto a tee box, you have an avenue to explore in the new pantheon of golf clothing that is drawing inspiration from all walks of life.

With this in mind, we dug through the archives in search of style lessons from the world’s best golfers (and a few celebrities) that you can still steal for today.

WALTER HAGEN

Circa 1915

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Bettmann

Let’s dial in on Hagen’s pants here. This is the era in which fashion was function, so surely Hagen rolled these pants in pursuit of performance, not a fit pic snapped on the streets. A closer look reveals pinstripes in his pants, which hang loose, and thanks to his personal touch, will remain grass-stain free. Also, this photo does make one ponder what strapping into a bow tie might do for head stabilization in the backswing.

BILL MURRAY

1996 Pebble Beach Pro-Am

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J.D. Cuban

Murray’s signature look is that he hardly has one. A stalwart, at least for a while, at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, in 1996 Murray walked the fairways of Poppy Hills in a put together number that looked to be straight out of a J.Crew catalog. It’s golfy, it’s preppy and another example of why there’s no reason not to wear a necktie on the course—especially on the peninsula.

ARNOLD PALMER

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Transcendental Graphics

1963 Thunderbird Classic

Arnold Palmer famously carried himself with a level of confidence and kindness unmatched by his contemporaries, which is a phenomenal first step in owning what you’re wearing. Lucky for Arnie, he had exquisite taste, too. We know The King had a thing for yellow, and anyone who looked as good in it as he does here would, too. He paired it with a navy polo and gray cuffed slacks. His shiny black shoes and perfectly weathered leather Wilson golf bag made this his signature look.

SAM SNEAD

1949 U.S. Open

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Bettmann

Is there anything smoother than Sam Snead’s swing? Seriously, go watch his ceremonial tee shot at the 2000 Masters. He still had it, and he still had style, too never more than in his heyday. In 1949 at Medinah, Snead married Midwest prep with a spike of the South in his signature straw hat. Don’t sleep on the refined pleated pants or the large, relaxed collar that gives his yellow polo even more character.

NICK FALDO

1990 Masters

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Augusta National

Nick Faldo’s commitment to the Scottish brand Pringle and its unmissable golf sweaters made its way to the biggest stage when Faldo won his second straight Masters wearing one in 1990. Sure, the green jacket pairs well here, but what’s impressive about this fit is that Faldo lets the icon on his sweater do the talking. Toning it down with dark gray slacks, white shoes and a matching collar are what keep this look from going over the top.

CHI CHI RODRIGUEZ

1965 Thunderbird Classic

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Bettmann

The wallet chain is a bold move, but Rodriguez was never afraid to express his unique personal style on the golf course, and for that, there’s nothing to serve but respect. Beyond the chain, a perfectly fitted polo, buttoned to the top as was his tendency, and a sleek, high-waisted pair of pants round out one of Rodriguez’s many fits to remember throughout his career. Further, it’s impossible not to look cool with a scowl like that underneath a pair of black Wayfarers.

CALVIN PEETE

1986 PGA Championship

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Jeff McBride

Any image of Calvin Peete from any point in his career could serve as a timeless style lesson. We’ll focus on this one from the 1986 PGA Championship for no other reason than it’s beautiful beyond adequate description. We love the relentless pleat, the crispy white shoes, a collar simultaneously relaxed and at attention and a hat that looks at home on his head. Look closely and you’ll spy a Coca-Cola logo on his polo. The NASCAR-ification of professional golfwear had yet to begin. Lastly, we applaud this luxurious cardinal red.

JUSTIN LEONARD

1999 Ryder Cup

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Rusty Jarrett

Team USA’s Sunday polo—aka “The Shirt”—is certainly a divisive pick for this list. Tiger Woods famously said he threw his in the fireplace afterward, but no one can argue with its magic. Not only is it synonymous with an iconic comeback, The Shirt speaks to the sort of storytelling we’re seeing throughout golf fashion today. A polo adorned with black and white images of winners past? You would see a million different versions of it today if The Shirt didn’t already exist in ubiquity or if Justin Leonard hadn’t holed that putt.

NANCY LOPEZ

1978 LPGA Championship

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Bettmann

This is late 1970s style in all its color-blocked glory, courtesy of Nancy Lopez: a vibrant hue of orangey red blocked with a deep blue bright enough that you can appreciate the pleats. A five-button polo with an extra-wide, elongated collar and perfectly tailored sleeves is ’70s style at its finest, and Lopez shows how she helped define the era making up most of our mood boards in the 2020s.

LAREE SUGG

1995

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Rick Stewart

The same year she became the third Black woman to earn an LPGA Tour card, La-Ree Sugg showed up to the first round of the Rochester International boasting an extremely powerful fit anchored by a Spider-Man snapback. Don’t be too distracted by your friendly neighborhood hero, though. Underneath, she’s got on a sneakily futuristic pair of shades and one hell of a case for red and yellow, starring a short sleeved, mock-neck sweater.

JESPER PARNEVIK

1994 Open Championship

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Stephen Munday

Jesper had a career full of unconventional looks, and this silhouette could be out of a 2024 lookbook. A turtleneck that channels the classic layering of a sweater vest, pants that hang comfortably and, yeah, a hat with a great backstory (he started wearing it this way in 1992 to get more sun on his face), Parnevik’s style is so enduring it earned him a contract with Malbon this year even though Jesper doesn’t compete on tour anymore.

BEN HOGAN

1962 Thunderbird Classic

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Transcendental Graphics

Hogan walked so Payne Stewart could run, at least in the cap department, but that’s not why we love Hogan’s look here. A polo that fits him just right hangs comfortably over a pair of high-waisted, low-crotch pants with an extended tab enclosure. It’s a whole lot of Parisian beauty—not bad for a guy from Texas.

SEVE BALLESTEROS

1988 Open Championship

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Peter Dazeley

The outline of this image of Seve could easily be considered for a new DP World Tour logo, but that would be a shame because we would miss out on the vibrance of these green pants. In his signature navy, Seve shows how to sport a loud color effectively by keeping it simple elsewhere with white shoes and a solid color up top. It’s just another reason why that classic navy sweater worked so well for him.

LORI GARBACZ

1990

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Tony Roberts

The LPGA Tour’s Lori Garbacz (GAR-ba-see) may not be a recognizable name, but she had a rebellious streak. (She famously protested slow play at the 1991 U.S. Women’s Open by having her caddie order Domino’s pizza from a payphone near the 14th hole and having it delivered to the 17th tee.) Here, aesthetics and functionality meet the 1980s in the rolled-up T-shirt (!) sleeves, magnificent ’do and oversized eyewear, but it’s really how Garbacz puts it together, or maybe the way she’s looking at that shot like it might go in, that’s most enviable.

PHIL MICKELSON

1993 MCI Heritage Classic

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PGA TOUR Archive

For a guy who rarely finds an escape from the color black these days, Mickelson put on a masterclass of loud country-club style throughout his prowess in the 1990s, never more so than here, at the 1993 MCI Heritage Classic, in an argyle-meets-tie dye top that’s part polo, part overshirt and part . . . sweatshirt? Whatever the case, it’s surprisingly steezy, and his caddie, Jim (Bones) Mackay, doesn’t lose points for the Yonex hat, either.

JOE PESCI AND JACK NICHOLSON

1996

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Pesci and Nicholson were paired at a charity tournament in L.A., and we were blessed with this moment: two of the greatest actors of all time, playing the part of capital-G Golfers. Look closely and admire Pesci’s studded leather belt and space-age shades. Nicholson has been photographed with a cigarette in his mouth plenty but might never have looked cooler than he does here in white, baggy pleated pants and a Titleist hat vintage heads would die to get their scalps under.

TIGER WOODS

1998 U.S. Open

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TIMOTHY A. CLARY

Before he ran his own clothing line designed to accentuate his superheroic physique, Tiger embraced the slouchy fits you can see scattered across America’s munys today. This wide-cut sweater vest feels borrowed from “Happy Gilmore,” and the cropped cut makes it more ahead of its time than even Tiger could have imagined. Don’t sleep on Tom Watson hanging in the background in Ralph Lauren wool.

FRED COUPLES

1992 Masters

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Focus On Sport

There’s so much good happening here, and I’m not even talking about the man in the red blazer in the background. At the 1992 Masters, Freddie won in epic fashion. These baggy, pleated beauties would have been all over Instagram had it existed back then. The brassy hue of brown is just light enough to let those pleats shine. Freddie’s no stranger to an easygoing look, but he has never executed quite like he did the day he slipped on the green jacket.

LEE ELDER

1975 Masters

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Augusta National

The Masters, even before it was the commercial powerhouse it is today, has always had a way of bringing out the best in pro golfers’ style, and Elder, the first Black man to play in the tournament, displays a simple yet powerful look. Yes, the grays in his pants and sweater aren’t the same, but they’re both luxe executions of wool that play next to each other like ham and eggs. A pop of red from his of-the-era collar and visor make it a head turner.

DON JANUARY

1963 Thunderbird Classic

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Bettmann

Don January was a PGA Championship winner and a Texas sports Hall of Famer. He’s also a first-ballot style Hall of Famer, as demonstrated here in a look that you could easily see on the course today. Don’t shame him for a wrinkled collar—golf can be rough. Instead, admire his confidence in popping it, and the cozy, worn-wool cardigan he wrapped it in. Throw in a nod for wearing merch from the tour stop at the tour stop. That’s support.

DOUG SANDERS

1960s

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Focus On Sport

It’s not that you don’t see a ton of white pants out there these days. The difference today is nobody seems to deploy them with the grace that Doug Sanders does here. The key is consistency with what you pair with them. Sanders chose a deep red monotone turtleneck-and-sweater-vest layer that looks so good you forget there’s not a collar in sight. The patent-leather, kiltie-laden spikes are the final and glorious touch.