Course of Style: The Art of Compression

Paul Casey stayed warm and dry wearing Nike Sphere tops under his polo shirts.
Robert Beck/SI

Call it “The Compression Open.” Last weekend at St. Andrews — not just a bastion of golf tradition but the fountainhead — a distinctly modern, untraditional style dominated the proceedings. Many of the players wore compression undershirts, often in a contrast color to their short-sleeved golf polos, giving them a two-tone (or even three-tone) look. Nothing “royal and ancient” about that.

Although golfers have been donning compression shirts — tight-fitting undergarments that provide a layer of warmth as well as muscle support throughout the swing — for years, the degree to which the pros adopted this look in the face of the windswept seaside conditions at St. Andrews was unprecedented. Players who went with compression shirts on most of the days included Tiger Woods, Paul Casey, Sean O’Hair, Justin Rose, Ricky Barnes, Sergio Garcia, and the eventual winner, Louis Oosthuizen (on two out of four days). It was quite a triumph for the pure performance look in a venue where argyles, plus-fours and thorn-proof tweeds once carried the day.

Going with a compression layer is kind of a shrewd compromise between wearing a sweater or lightweight pullover (many players, including Westwood, Woods and Oosthuizen, did wear pullovers at various times). Once you add a garment to the outside, you have to wonder — and this may be purely psychological — whether it will affect your swing. Since it goes on underneath, the compression layer is almost like a security blanket, offering a bit of insulation and the hope that it will it not restrict your swing — and perhaps even enhance it.

Nike-sponsored players — Woods and Casey, for example — wore Nike’s Sphere Dry Baselayer, which is available in black and white, with a self-fabric collar and cuffs. The garment weighs a mere 7.7 ounces and is 92% polyester, 8% spandex. The base layer shirt uses a three-dimensional fabric construction, according to Nike, to keep you warm and insulated from the elements with the added benefits of breathability and stretch. The Adidas version, the ClimaLite Thermal Compression mock turtleneck, is 90 percent polyester, 10 percent Lycra (spandex) and is engineered to be antimicrobial.

At times, Woods actually had a three-tone look, with a sweater vest, shirt, and compression shirt all of different colors. That’s a bit much. Oosthuizen, interestingtly enough, went bare-armed on his final day. The way his swing was working, he could have been wearing a three-piece tweed suit.