Course of Style: Watson Gives Polo Ralph Lauren a Win

Course of Style: Watson Gives Polo Ralph Lauren a Win

Luke Donald wearing Polo RLX apparel at 2009 British Open
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Tom Watson’s glorious run at the British Open may have ended with a disappointing second-place finish, but it was a victory for his apparel sponsor, Polo Ralph Lauren. The folks at Polo Golf have been dressing Watson, Davis Love III, Luke Donald and others for years. They came awfully close to getting a big win at Turnberry, with Watson leading for much of the tournament and Donald finishing tied for fifth. While the playoff must have been excruciating, the overall exposure for their brand had to have been at least equal to a win.

The design team at Polo Golf planned way in advance for the tournament, developing a special “Royal & Ancient” apparel line with Scottish themes as the basis for their entire fall collection. Watson was very tailored-looking and classic throughout, most notably in his gray argyle sweater (Thursday), a pair of dove-gray flannel chalkstripe trousers (Friday, below), and a black-and-blue crewneck with windowpane overplaid (Saturday). These are not the sort of clothes you typically see on the golf course anymore, unfortunately.

Donald wore the more contemporary, performance-oriented RLX golf line, but this also included Scottish themes, like a traditional clan-plaid sweater vest. Neither man was “scripted,” in the ordinary apparel-sponsor sense, which means they made their own choices about what to wear from the various suggested outfits Polo Golf supplied them.

A style footnote: It was kind of amusing to watch ABC archival footage of Watson winning the Open back in the 1970s, with his wild hair, vivid plaid pants and brightly colored shirts. The now-classic Watson dressed then a heckuva lot like Ian Poulter does today.

As mentioned, Polo Golf (which sounds like an oxymoron) generally does not strictly “script” its star players as many apparel companies do. The phenomenon of scripting— whereby players like Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia have their four-day tournament wardrobes planned more than a year in advance by apparel sponsors like Nike and Adidas—is getting wider attention.

An article about scripting on the front page of The New York Times news section a week ago was certainly noteworthy in itself, if not exactly big news. The topic is a familiar one to readers of this Web site and was also explored in a full-length piece in Sports Illustrated Golf Plus last year.

The mercantile aim of such elaborately planned wardrobing of players is to ensure that identical merchandise from the sponsoring company will be produced and shipped in time to be on pro-shop shelves just as the tournaments are being televised. This way the brand promotion can result in actual retail sales.

Also, to return to a theme we’ve outlined before, scripting raises apparel branding to a new mass level—but represents a reversal of the aspirational side of golf fashion. In the past, the great players—Ben Hogan, Sammy Snead, Byron Nelson—were often blue-collar types who started out in the caddie yard and dressed to emulate the country club aristocrats: starched shirts, cashmere sweaters, pleated trousers, and well-tooled oxford golf shoes—all assembled in a personal, idiosyncratic manner. Now country club members dress to emulate the pros—baseball caps, striped performance shirts, zipped outerwear, sneakerlike golf shoes. Utterly cool, dry, athletic, and prosaic. Golf fashion has been turned on its head.

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