December 30, 2013

A Case For Shorts

The story behind the ban at the U.S. Open, and why the legendary Bill Campbell fought it

Justin Leonard has both bases covered.

Justin Leonard has both bases covered.

As a golfer who likes to wear shorts in all weather conditions, I enjoyed reading on David Owen's blog (myusualgame.com

) that his hardy Sunday Morning Group gives an extra handicap stroke to anyone who wears shorts after Nov. 1 (two strokes after Dec. 1).

Reading David's post got me thinking of the late Bill Campbell, who died in August at 90. Bill was a renaissance man, and I'm not being casual in using that term to describe him. He was the greatest golfer to hold the position of USGA president. He was a man of exceedingly high (and strongly held) principles, and he had a long memory on all matters, important and trivial, including the wearing of shorts on a golf course.

Some of you might recall that a pro golfer named Forrest Fezler, in the final round of the 1983 U.S. Open, popped into a port-o-potty behind the 18th tee, changed into a pair of shorts and played Oakmont's final hole to the accompaniment of cheers and hoots. Forrest quickly left the course after signing his card, perhaps fearing being lectured by USGA officials, but the fact is, he did nothing wrong. None of the USGA's championships, including the Open, prohibited the wearing of shorts.

In 1983, the USGA Executive Committee meetings were scheduled for the Monday after the final round. Weather delays on Sunday forced the leaders to return to the course the next day to finish. (Larry Nelson nipped Tom Watson by a shot.) To the surprise of no one, the committee decided to take up the matter of competitors wearing shorts in the Open (and Senior Open), with the expectation that there would be a vote to adopt the PGA Tour policy and ban shorts.

To the surprise of just about everyone, the only person against the proposed ban was Bill Campbell, who was in the second and final year of his term as president. Bill, who excelled at what he called the executive committee's "taffy-pulling debates," had his A-game going that Monday. (As an aside, it took Bill about 30 years—l30 years!—to get the USGA and R&A Rules Committees to agree that the penalty for a ball in motion striking the player be reduced to one shot in all forms of play.) He pointed out that more than half of the Open field consisted of qualifiers. He was emphatic that the U.S. Open was not a PGA Tour event, and that if a player wanted to wear shorts, then let him. Suffice it to say, the vote to ban shorts was tabled.

In making his case for shorts, Bill did not share with the committee a story he told me during our 6½-hour drive back to New Jersey later that afternoon. Campbell, who had served a few years as a Democratic state representative in West Virginia, ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. Congressional seat in 1952. As Bill told it, he was a decided underdog, but he was not at all pleased that his opponent chose to distribute, throughout the district, copies of a photo of Bill wearing a pair of madras shorts on a golf course. Though there was no printed message, the inference was clear: Would you vote for a Bermuda-shorts-wearing golfer as your Congressman? Bill lost that race.

During that car ride, Bill predicted to me that the committee would vote to ban shorts in the Open once he was off the committee. He was right. The no-shorts policy at the Open went into effect at Winged Foot in June 1984. Unhappy 30th anniversary!



SHORTS, LONG SOCKS AND BARRY BONDS

In the summer of 2007, I traveled to Montreal for meetings with Dick Pound, who was then president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, in addition to being one of the true giants on the International Olympic Committee. He invited me to play golf at Mount Bruno, a club that required men to wear knee-length socks when wearing shorts.

That evening, Aug. 7, we went out for a very late dinner, and afterward, learned that Barry Bonds had hit career home run No. 756—one more than Hank Aaron. When I asked Dick for his reaction, he replied: "Barry Bonds has a number. Henry Aaron has a record."

That, in the words of Shakespeare, was the short and the long of it.