In not allowing shorts, pro golf is being, well, shortsighted

October 11, 2012

It used to be that if you had something to sell, you'd "show 'em a little leg." For decades that maxim moved everything from Chryslers to colognes to Broadway shows. But this week the Turkish Golf Federation raised eyebrows and inseams when it permitted PGA Tour players competing in its non-PGA Tour sanctioned Turkish Airlines World Golf Final to do just that: Wear (gasp) shorts during the competition. And if you think this is the kind of headline that can only emerge from a silly-season event in which the world's No. 1 and No. 2 players lost their first-round matches, you're correct.

There was shock and outrage among the white-belt set. "I'm not a big fan of it," said Chris Tidland, a guest on Golf Channel's Morning Drive. "I think it looks unprofessional, looks like you're with your buddies on a week off, playing at your local course." Local course? Eew. Oh, and Tidland happened to be sporting a short-sleeve shirt.


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Guest host, veteran PGA Tour player Steve Flesch, agreed. "It's our work environment," he harrumphed, somehow stomaching Tidland's exposed arms. "As a golfer you're a professional; act like one, dress like one."

Dress like one? Wait a minute, have you seen some of the clothes these guys wear? I don't need Blackwell to tell me that a pair of khaki shorts on Dustin Johnson would sell the game a helluva lot better than a pair of Zubaz slacks on John Daly. And this is not a new problem: Remember that plaid adhesive coating in which Jack won the '86 Masters? We could do better if only the PGA Tour would relax its nonsensical insistence on long form leg-wear.

A short history is in order: It was only as recently as 1999, that in its beneficence the tour even allowed sweat-soaked caddies to drop trou, so to speak. Difficult as it is to believe, that was actually a hard-fought battle. The turning point came in July of that year when Garland Dempsey, caddieing for John Maginnes in the Western Open, collapsed. The heat index was 106 degrees. His heart had stopped. Initially the Tour, out of the goodness of its heart, agreed to test the usage of shorts by caddies, but only during hot days over the next three events. When caddies stopped toppling and the earth kept turning, the tour relented. The caddies donned shorts and guess what, no one cared. No one even noticed. And if no one's objected yet to Fluff Cowan in Bermudas, I think we can handle Matt Kuchar in a pair of Vineyard Vines. In fact, it may just be me, but I think a cooler, more comfortable player sells the game a little better than the pools of butt-sweat we get all summer on TV.

But the tour, in all its antiquity, still feels that shorts on players would diminish the image of its product (Pssst, Tim. Your biggest star ever was revealed as one of the sleaziest people on the planet. You think knobby knees could hurt your image?). Some of the greatest professional athletes in the world perform in shorts. Imagine Usain Bolt taking on the 200 meters in corduroys. Not cool. Literally. Shorts, even very short ones, served John McEnroe pretty well in the 1970s and 80s. Even the NHL, whose rinks are maintained at between 20 and 22 degrees, requires shorts after a brief and unpopular experiment in 1981 with long pants. In fact, aside from cricket and bowling, I'm hard-pressed to find another sport that's so beholden to pants. Do we really want to model ourselves after the PBA? Again, eew.

In a day and age when golf is desperate to attract new players and young athletes we should be encouraging an athletic image for the game. Have shorts hurt the LPGA Tour? The NBA, which enjoyed record TV ratings last year, seems to be getting by. The oh-so correct NCAA still allows shorts in NCAA play. Even the USGA is pro-choice (for select events). We should be proving to the next generation of potential players that golf is an actual sport, played by actual athletes with actual legs. Instead the tour is clinging to some bygone standard that's not only out of touch with ambient the temperature in July in Mississippi, but out of sync with modern times. Hell, Wimbledon itself finally got around to allowing 1932.

Golf is funny. We say we're worried about bringing new people to the game in this 21st century and we then ban use of the era's most vital communications tool, the cellphone. We hope to bring youth to the sport by dressing our most gifted stars, our greatest athletes, like old men in the park. I know, it's a big leap, a bold step. Next thing you know, we'll be letting women into Augusta National.