Phil Mickelson’s t-shirt raises age-old golf question: What’s the dress code?

Phil Mickelson on Thursday at St. Andrews.

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — When Phil Mickelson showed up to the 1st tee at the Old Course on Thursday morning, a whisper ran through the crowd.

Was that a t-shirt?

Mickelson was dressed head-to-toe in his characteristic shade of Aggressive Black. His only visible logo was his own — his jumping silhouette from the 2004 Masters — on his hat. He wore black slacks and a blank black quarter-zip. But under that quarter-zip was what appeared to be a simple black t-shirt.

Don’t take this as a critique. This writer plays most of his golf collar-free and supports the right of others to do so, too. But this writer also plays none of his golf on the PGA Tour nor at St. Andrews. So Mickelson’s casual approach called to mind an age-old question: What’s pro golf’s dress code, anyway? And how ’bout in this event, at this course?

PGA Tour dress code

The world’s preeminent tour has softened the specifics around its dress code in recent years. In what ways? Shorts are now permitted in practice rounds, for one thing. And the language dictating player dress is intentionally vague. Here’s what it says in Tour pros’ handbook:

Players shall present a neat appearance in both clothing and personal grooming. Clothing worn by players shall be consistent with currently accepted golf fashion. The Chief Referee shall interpret this regulation, subject to the approval of the Commissioner.

Pretty open-ended, right? Under a list of Frequently Asked Questions on the Tour’s website, they dive a little deeper:

“Golf attire and fashion is always changing and evolving. T-shirts, jeans, or shorts (for players) are considered inappropriate. Our officials monitor player appearance for violations while allowing players to express their own personal styles.”

That would make it seem like a t-shirt would be a fashion faux pas — but that was written in 2017. T-shirts have made strides since then!

St. Andrews’ dress code

Even though the PGA Tour co-sanctions the Open Championship, they don’t run the show. So what does the host site say about how players should dress while playing the course? Less than you might think. Here’s what St. Andrews tells visitors on its website:

Golfers should wear attire appropriate to the sport and clothing should not be scruffy or torn. The dress code in the clubhouses is smart/casual.

Open Championship dress code

Here’s the dress code that competitors at this week’s Open were told to follow, per the R&A:

“The wearing of jeans of any colour is not permitted whilst practising or competing during any stage of The Open. Shorts may be worn at Regional Qualifying and Final Qualifying and whilst practising at The Open. The Open Championships Committee will consider any variations to the policy in the light of extreme weather conditions.”

In other words, don’t wear jeans. Besides that, all good! While golf’s war on jeans is worth its own deep dive — what did denim do to them?! — these rules seem pretty simple to follow. And not a word about t-shirts.

The verdict

Did Mickelson violate any rules, whether written or implied? The answer’s not as clear as you might think. Sure, the PGA Tour doesn’t seem too crazy about t-shirts. But even his guilt on those grounds isn’t clear. Mickelson was wearing a quarter-zip, which feels pretty collar-ish. Plenty of guys wear no-collar layers under shirts or sweaters. Is this really that different? Plus, hoodies — former scourges of certain corners of the golf world — dotted St. Andrews on Thursday afternoon, representing positive progress in the linksland’s collective closet.

Two questions remain, then. The first: Why this look? Mickelson’s wardrobe has in recent weeks consisted of Phil-logoed shirts and pullovers, both at LIV events and in practice rounds earlier this week.

Nobody asked him about the t-shirt in his post-round press conference; there were more pressing matters to attend to, like Mickelson’s opening-round 72, the reasoning behind his absence at the Champions Dinner or his latest feelings on LIV vs. the PGA Tour. But that leads us to our second question, which might undercut this entire article:

Who cares?

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.