Ryder Cup

Ryder Cup 2023: In praise of hatless golfers

September 26, 2023

Jordan Spieth was among the players not wearing a hat during practice on Tuesday.

Patrick Smith

ROME — There is a second glance that warrants a third, for the brain is temporarily broken and needs to confirm the eyes are not wrong. They are not; the figure in view is in fact Jordan Spieth, walking from the 16th green to the elevated 17th tee, corroborated by his swing and his voice and his name stitched into the bag strapped to caddie Michael Greller’s shoulder. You may wonder why there is doubt, given Spieth’s popularity and stature in the game, and the reason is because we see the entirety of his face and the top of his head, a sight not normally seen.

But boy, it is a beautiful sight.

It is Ryder Cup week, an event that is powered by tradition and genuflects to prestige. But it is also week filled with character, that embraces color and peccadillos in a manner other competitions do not. One of those charming little quirks? Hatless golfers.

It’s not just Spieth. On Tuesday at Marco Simone he played with Patrick Cantlay, who was also not wearing anything on his dome. On the other side of the course was Rory McIlroy, also without hat. There are posters hung of Luke Donald throughout the property, both of Donald the captain and Donald the former European player. Is Donald wearing a hat in either photo? That’s a dumb question because you already know the answer.

What is our infatuation with hatless golfers? We suppose part of it is magic. Look no further than the legend of McIlroy, who is a generational player when he dons a cap and a destroyer of worlds when he does not. There’s a case to be made that a hatless McIlroy may have 15 majors by now, and while you can argue those merits it’s an argument you will lose. McIlroy claims he doesn’t wear a hat because his head is too small and the team can’t customize a hat to his size. It’s also a lie, trying to divert his opponents from the source of his powers.

The no-hat look is a statement. Wearing a cap is practical, even sensible, what with the decaying ozone layer and all. Plus, have you tried to play golf without a hat in good weather? Lot of squinting, and that’s not very photogenic. But keeping the hat tucked away tells the opponent you are unbothered by your surroundings—even the strength of the sun—and there’s nothing more formidable than one beholden only to an inner command known to them.

There is an element of voyeurism. We are a culture infatuated with celebrity, and making the Ryder Cup qualifies as stardom in our neck of the woods. Yet we also like our celebrities to be humanized, and something about hatless golfers makes them look slightly disheveled, no? Hatless golfers are the game’s version of the paparazzi snapping photos of an actor taking out the trash or grabbing coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. The stars, they’re just like us!

We can’t forget the style. And by style we mean lack thereof. The golf gods have blessed Spieth and Cantlay with many talents; luscious locks are not of them. But this is no time for style; we’re in Rome, not Milan. While we are here we are sad to report the delightfully terrible mullets of Sam Burns and Brooks Koepka were covered Tuesday. A damn shame, because lettuce that majestic deserves to be uncaged.

Yet, in all sincerity, the hatless golfer’s appeal is nostalgia. Not just to an era when the greats like Arnie and Jack and Seve played without hats, but to a simpler time when we were kids, hitting balls at the range with our dads or chasing the sun to get in as many holes as we could. And there’s some romanticism, too. Let’s be real; the past two years have shown much in professional golf can be bought. That includes the real estate on players’ foreheads, with equipment manufacturers and apparel companies and something called MegaCorp paying big bucks to have their brands stamped on their hats.

But here players are unshackled from the constraints of commercials, for there is no sponsorship money to be had at the Ryder Cup. Which is sort of the point, because what’s on the line can’t be bought. Any doubt needs only to look at the last Ryder Cup, when McIlroy was brought to tears on Sunday discussing his team’s belief in him when he didn’t have his best. It was a moment that underlined why this event is so special. A moment that deserved a tip of the cap.