Golf’s odd, almost inexplicably complicated relationship with shorts

As nearly 5.8 million people tuned in to watch The Match between Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady against Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning, Mickelson confidently strolled up to the first tee and gave everyone at home a glimpse of what they were hoping to see — his calves.

The man who has joked on social media about having calves like Adonis finally got the opportunity to show them off to the world in tournament play. Mickelson played his round in a pair of dark-colored shorts, just above the knee fold, perfectly putting his calves on display with each weight transfer and rotation in his swing.

Both he and Woods sauntered around the wet course in shorts, with Woods opting for a hybrid cargo short of sorts. Woods is among the very elite dads who can pull off the golf cargo short, but there he and Mickelson were, bearing their legs, playing competitive golf on national television with a record number of viewers watching.

It might have looked foreign at first to see tour pros on television in shorts, but after a few holes it led to many asking the same question. Why aren’t they allowed to wear shorts during competition on the PGA Tour?

The Tour’s policy says players must wear pants in competitive rounds. The Tour altered that policy in 2019, allowing tour pros to wear shorts in non-competitive rounds, which meant practice and pro-am rounds as long as the shorts are knee-length, tailored and neat in appearance.

Your friend who rolls out of bed at 6:45 in the morning for his 7 a.m. tee time on your annual buddy trip would have a tough time following that, but the tour pros are fitted with high-end gear from major brands and are fully capable of still appearing as high-end golfers if they were wearing shorts instead of pants, as Mickelson and Woods both demonstrated in their match.

The PGA Tour started allowing caddies to wear shorts only in 1999, and even that was brought on with some grumbling. ESPN’s Bob Harig recalled an event called the Showdown at Sherwood on August 2, 1999, with Woods and David Duval.

It, too, was a made-for-TV match and was highly anticipated, with two of the best golfers in the world who had created somewhat of a rivalry. At that time, caddies were still not allowed to wear shorts, and the temperature was around 91 degrees for the match.

Steve Williams and Mitch Knox, caddies for Woods and Duval, showed up to the event wearing shorts, Harig remembered. Rules official Vaughn Moise told the caddies they needed to be in pants, so Knox went to the pro shop at Sherwood and bought a pair of pants with no hems that he rolled up near his ankles.

Moise warned Williams again that he needed to be wearing long pants or he would not be caddying on the PGA Tour.

Woods then stepped in and said, “Guess I’ll be playing in Europe,” and Williams wore his shorts during the event.

Golf is traditionally traditional, so some rules are just followed, but some rules are head-scratchers. Such as how 20-to-50-year-old men have to wear pants while outside in warm climates playing a sport that takes five hours.

Not everyone would want to switch, but why not give them the option to choose?

Charley Hoffman is the chairman of the player advisory committee, helping to make recommendations to the board of directors, and is among those tour players who wouldn’t want to wear shorts.

“As much as I like to wear shorts being a Southern California kid, I just think the product looks a lot better, a lot more clean [with pants],” Hoffman said. “Not sure if that is the older side of me. I don’t mind shorts, but I tend to believe it’s more of a professional look with pants.”

There’s nothing wrong with that take. He’s the athlete and should get to wear what makes him feel comfortable and what he believes looks best.

There are players, however, who think they would be more comfortable in shorts. Brandt Snedeker thinks the idea of having the option to choose would be beneficial and that playing in shorts in the pro-ams and practice rounds has already softened viewers and fans up to the idea.

“It seems like our society is getting more and more casual it seems like every day. Some traditionalists would want to see us in pants more often, but when you get into the middle of summertime, like you’re going to see in the next few months on tour, it’s going to be hot everywhere,” Snedeker said. “Every pro would probably be for it. It’s going to be 100 degrees in Memphis in July. The shock-ness of people seeing us in shorts is wearing off, and they are getting more comfortable with it.”

It should be about comfort for the athletes, because that’s what the modern golfer is, an athlete.

Adidas is the market leader in shorts and pants in golf retail, and its director of global apparel, Shaun Madigan, sees positives in allowing shorts. At the same time, Madigan said technology in pants has come so far that we’re not comparing wearing shorts to pleated cotton potato sacks sewn as pants anymore.

“In my opinion, the biggest difference would come from the athletes’ point of view,” Madigan said. “From the conversations I have been exposed to, it appears as though a majority of [tour golfers] would appreciate the option to wear shorts during tournament rounds.”

It would benefit the apparel companies, too, as the tour pros are major drivers for their brands and influencers for the styles many consumers and average golfers select.

There haven’t been many other golfers to influence style in recent years than Rickie Fowler and Puma. Fowler can be seen at tournaments surrounded by young kids in bright orange hats and colorful PUMA outfits similar to what Fowler wore early in his career.

Grant Knudson, global head of product for Puma Golf, said consumers’ purchasing habits in the United States are about 2-to-1 when it comes to buying shorts versus pants. The average golfer is opting for shorts when it’s hot out because it’s more comfortable despite the advances in technology with golf pants.

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