CHARLOTTE — The short story has been the story here in the early going at the 99th PGA Championship.
For the last three days at Quail Hollow Club, pro golfers have been dressed like dads at a Monday-night league match—just with more logos.
If you haven’t heard (or seen), the PGA of America has permitted players to wear shorts during the practice rounds at this final major of the season. Many observers will find this development about as newsworthy as the conclusion of this week’s Bachelorette finale.
But it’s big news for golf.
Some fans were shocked when the new dress code was announced earlier this year. As Shooter McGavin once said, “This is golf, people!”
And now that it’s actually happening here in rainy Charlotte, it is mildly jarring. Jordan Spieth, aiming to become the first player in history to complete the career grand slam while wearing shorts in his practice rounds, flashed his shins Monday, Tuesday AND Wednesday. He even mixed it up. Two grays and a khaki, proving again his preparation is in a class of its own.
Phil Mickelson, who has the calves of a linebacker, also took advantage of the new rule. So did gold-medal winner Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm, among many others.
It’s like Jersey Day at elementary school all over again. A rare chance to express oneself in a new light. So many options! And so much fun!
“Everybody is razzing each other a little bit,” said Jimmy Walker, the defending champ. “I think there’s guys that look really good in shorts and some guys that don’t look really good in shorts. A lot of untanned legs—you can tell those Florida boys. You know they have been down there soaking the sun up. I’ve been up in Utah and I’ve been overseas for two weeks, wet and cold, so my legs aren’t very tan right now.”
The players’ shorts selections have been as varied as their swings. Ernie Els went plaid, John Daly went patriotic and Billy Horschel, ever the limnologist, wore shorts with sea turtles on them.
Dustin Johnson wore shorts only on Tuesday. He was asked an odd question: Does baring his legs give him more confidence? “I don’t even know how to answer that,” he said.
Rory McIlroy elected to stay in slacks. So did Henrik Stenson, who declared his legs are “too sexy” for shorts.
Butch Harmon, who coaches Fowler and Walker, among others, and Cameron McCormick, Spieth’s coach, are old-school guys. Pants all week for them. They can wear shorts whenever they like, of course, but this week’s peer pressure didn’t get to them.
You know who has got to love all these naked calves? Forrest Fezler, that’s who.
Fezler bravely became the first player ever to wear shorts during a U.S. Open when he executed a Superman-like change in the porta-potty before playing the 72nd hole of the ’83 Open at Oakmont. (He said he did it to dispute the way the USGA set up its courses, but later admitted his fashion choice was also retribution for a poor ruling years earlier.)
All these knobby knees in North Carolina beg an obvious question: Are shorts unbecoming of a Tour professional? I mean, what would Old Tom, or Bobby Jones or Ben Hogan think? They weren’t available, so I tried another stylish swinger, the great Gary Player.
“Change is the price of survival,” Player wrote in an email, adding that he first wore shorts in a pro event during the Million Dollar Golf Challenge in South Africa but never donned them on the PGA or Europeans tours. “Relaxing some of these types of rules is good for the game … if you’ve got nice legs.” (He was kidding about the nice legs. The smiley emojis he employed after that line indicated as much.)
Player said he liked the idea and that he too would wear shorts if he were still playing and had the opportunity to do so (although not at the Masters or Opens). He said the looser fashion laws suit the PGA Championship because the PGA of America’s mission is club golf, not pro golf.
“The game needs to keep changing, evolving and attracting younger players,” he said. “A more relaxed dress code, music, technology friendly and fun are important to millennials.”
So there you have it. Gary Player is OK with shorts at a major. And if it’s good enough for Gary, it should be good enough for you, too.