February 2, 2009

Curbing the Menace of the 5 o'clock Shadow

Tour officals considering appearance guidelines for players

As if to prove the truth also can be funnier than fiction, the PGA Tour started working on a set of guidelines regarding the appearance and decorum of its players last summer, right around the same time it began airing a commercial in which Mike Weir grows a hearty beard for the FedEx Cup playoffs. After seeking advice on how to achieve post-season success from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, Weir shows up on the first tee looking like a member of ZZ Top.

It didn't take long for a player on the tour's policy board to question the wisdom of this mixed message, otherwise known as a contradiction. Facial hair and untucked shirts have become matters of concern in Camp Ponte Vedra, perhaps not the lead topic of discussion at weekly meetings but certainly important enough for Rick George, the tour's chief of operations, to get something down in writing. On paper, this should delight all those old-schoolers who judge a man by his relationship with a razor.

In reality, it probably won't deter Sergio Garcia from showing up with a four-day growth, which can't be nearly as offensive as those canary-yellow pants he wore at the British Open a few years back. "More of a guide than a policy," is how George characterizes the company position. "There are no parameters, per se. We just want the players to be neatly groomed, and there are a lot of ways to interpret that. We want them to be mindful of their overall appearance."

Although I personally don't understand anyone's preoccupation with a tour pro and his whiskers, I'm not going to hide behind the default argument and suggest the tour devote its energy to more pressing affairs. There is more to George's project than shaving or not shaving. Some of it might seem silly—Ryan Moore caused quite a stir by wearing a headband last fall, for instance. Other issues probably should have been addressed years ago.

At the top of that urgency list is the deportment of players during the Wednesday pro-ams. If the vast majority of tour members are congenial, helpful and cognizant of the large sums of money somebody is paying for the experience, there still are too many dissatisfied customers, too many complaints about tour pros who don't bother to read putts or even converse with their amateur partners.

"We just want the players to be neatly groomed, and there are a lot of ways to interpret that." —Rick George

Look at it this way: Would you rather spend five hours with a dude who has a shaggy goatee and shows a genuine interest in your measly little life, or some freshly scrubbed Lord of Entitlement who is standing on the next tee before you've putted out on the previous green? If there are 20 such examples of arrogance every year, that's about 20 too many. Especially in this 22-handicap economy.

George's observation that grooming is a subjective matter should not go unnoticed. The tour isn't about to start telling players they can't grow facial hair. With that in mind, how does one determine what is sloppy and what isn't? Rocco Mediate has a 5 o'clock shadow by 10 a.m., yet he's a popular player and, by most accounts, a dutiful soldier in an army of well-paid gripers.

Besides, the half-beard is part of Rocco's look. He would probably shoot 81 without the whiskers. "We're not looking to take away the players' individualism," George affirms. "It [began] as one of those things where we … started discussing concerns about our image and professional demeanor, inside and outside the ropes."

Hmmm. Sounds like another unenforced mandate with an option to crack the whip when Wilbur in Iowa decides Camilo Villegas needs a haircut. If the tour looks the other way when it comes to slow play, one can't envision a guy getting fined $1,000 for hiding a pimple on his chin. You can appeal to the world's best golfers with a voice of gentle reason, and as long as the courtesy cars keep showing up, they will do what is in the best interests of the game, but laying down some murky law? Good luck.

Arnold Palmer never grew a beard. Neither did Jack Nicklaus. Ben Hogan? You've got to be kidding. Not counting Tiger Woods, whose attempts to produce facial hair have proven very unsuccessful, it's a struggle to identify even a single player who won a bunch of tournaments without the aid of shaving cream. Craig Stadler probably qualifies, although the Walrus preserved his immense popularity with much more than that overgrown fu manchu.

The carelessly unbuttoned shirt. The wrinkled pants. The lifelong scowl. The angry flip of the club after every mediocre shot. When you own a physique like Stadler's, you don't want people to think you're trying too hard to look good. Sometimes, we find problems where there really is no problem at all.