PGA Championship 2019: The curious case of Tony Finau’s optical illusion Nike outfit

May 16, 2019

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — On Thursday at Bethpage Black, Tony Finau wore a black-and-white striped shirt. But this wasn’t just any ol’ striper. This was an optical illusion. A work of contemporary art. Tony Finau looked like a Sol Lewitt exhibit. Like a geometrically-inclined zebra. Like one of those Magic Eye drawings, where you squint until you see something else. Folks, the last time this many White Stripes clashed, the band broke up for good.

To review: The front of Finau’s shirt (a version of the new Nike Polo) was mostly a uniform black-and-white stripe. But on the right sleeve, it switched, right at the seam, to a different black-and-white stripe, with more white than black. That lighter pattern ran through to the middle of his back, where the stripes clashed and collided, creating a vertical split bisecting his back.

Finau’s hat was split in half, too: The left side red-orange, the right side black. When he walked straight ahead, the split ran down from his head all the way to the bottom of his shirt. The whole thing felt optically confusing. Importantly, Finau couldn’t see most of this. Not the stripe in the back or the stripe on his hat. That was for us, the viewers, to behold.

We've never seen anything quite like Tony Finau's Nike shirt.
We've never seen anything quite like Tony Finau's Nike shirt.
Getty Images

His hat matched his shoes, sort of, a pair of Nike Air Max 1Gs with black-and-gray speckled trim, black paneling and red swooshes. According to a Nike release, “the iconic “Bred” colorway, paired with the jungle inspired safari print, pays homage to some of Nike’s most iconic footwear styles.” So there’s that. His gray-black yardage book cover with red ‘FINAU’ lettering completed the ensemble.

Finau was paired with two of golf’s more “stylish” players, at least by golf’s more traditional definition. Ian Poulter was dressed as he usually is, in a light shirt, navy trousers and a white visor, hair spiked through the top. Horschel was wearing a bright-yellow RLX pullover and blue-and-white saddle shoes. The visor and the saddle shoes — their trademarks — are holdovers from a different era. Not so for Finau.

Why does any of this matter? Wait, don’t answer that. First, let’s get some more context. Nike is on a bit of a run in the golf world. Sure, its club company shut down, but players wearing the Swoosh have won the last five majors, plus the Players Championship, plus the Tour Championship, and plenty more. They don’t really seem like they have to trot out radical innovations; they could stay away from the risk of putting out a top player in potentially very ugly ensembles. Tony Finau pulled it off, in a manner of speaking. Most of Nike’s customers would have much less luck.

Maybe that’s the point, though. Golf suffers from staleness. Nike’s pushing back against that. Tony Finau might not have looked cool, and Brooks Koepka might not have, either. But there’s something cool about that, about putting yourself out there — especially if you’re topping the leaderboard. It’s not exactly punk rock, but in the golf world, it’s enough to be subversive, at least.

Asked about his look afterwards, Finau grinned. “It’s pretty cool, don’t you think? It’s different.” He smoothly transitioned to company-speak. Finau is notably friendly, and notably smooth. “That’s what I love about being a Nike athlete — they’re not afraid to do something different, so I’m kinda digging the different stripes, and I think it looks pretty cool.”

Tony Finau is walking proof Nike isn't afraid to try new things.
Tony Finau is walking proof Nike isn't afraid to try new things.
USA Today

As for the fans? They let him have it. “Oh, yeah, man. All day,” he said. “Some of ‘em liked it, some of ‘em didn’t. Some of ‘em asked how much I got paid to wear it. As expected. I remembered the fans from Shinnecock last year, so I knew what to expect.”

Finau the golfer finished the day where he started: even par. One eagle. Two bogeys. Fifteen pars. Nine visible swooshes, while we’re counting. And every opportunity to play his way into contention.

After an opening 70, Finau still has a major chance. He’s one of the few guys who can hit the green from the Bethpage rough, as he did on Thursday, when he hit just six fairways but found 14 greens. “I think that’s an advantage, my strength, my club head speed.”

To review: A very impressive athlete wore a very aggressive outfit. That much we know. Finau hardly striped it, if you catch my drift, but he managed his way to even par. Tomorrow, he’ll get to try again.

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