Gary McCord turned 50 recently and his long-suffering wife, Diane, put together a very special video for him, featuring, among other things, some of the more embarrassing moments of his career. It turns out that he was sponsored for a while by Lawrence Welk and even appeared on his television show, which brings me to my subject this month: Fashion in golf — or lack thereof.
On Mr. Welk’s show, my cosmic colleague was youthful, puffy-cheeked, and positively resplendent in a pair of white, skin-tight polyester flared pants with a pair of four-inch-high, white patent leather clod-hoppers to match.
Also, he had not yet acquired his trademark moustache, so all in all he looked like a guinea pig on stilts. I thought, “Man, does he look ridiculous.”
Little did I know that my own wife had a similar shock in store for me on my 40th birthday. Some of what my video had to offer was pretty spooky to watch, I can tell you. In my first years as a pro, I made a pretty obnoxious fashion statement.
The first real four-round professional tournament I won was the 1980 Irish Professional Championship at Royal Dublin. In the last round, I wore a pair of pants somewhat similar to those that were found around the ankles of the King on the bathroom floor at Graceland.
They were polyester, of course, and so voluminous that any change of direction had to be negotiated carefully for fear of lassoing the ankles and falling over. In those days, I was a strapping 230 pounds, with thighs like a rhino, so in the twilight the inevitable chafing produced enough static to make it seem as if bolts of lightning were shooting out from between my mighty loins. (Well, perhaps that’s stretching it a bit.)
Combine all this with the seven-inch collar points on the shirt and the remnants of a highly ill-advised perm, and you have a mental picture of the 1980 Irish Professional Champion.
It looked as if that morning, I had covered my naked body with glue and flung myself into Liberace’s closet. Then, while driving to the golf course, I must have flattened a black poodle, which I obviously felt would look good on my head.
My friends, if this footage ever finds its way into CBS’s hands, life as I know it is over.
Realizing that, compared to me, McCord didn’t look that bad, I decided to delve further back into some old photograph albums. A dog-eared shot of my high school golf team was a rip-snorter and again the pants dominated. In 1974, I was a pimply 16-year-old who apparently had no qualms about wearing the kind of red-and-white gingham check that would guarantee I never got a girlfriend.
They were horrific in a “somewhere-in-Little-Italy-there-is-a-tablecloth-missing” kind of way. I cannot believe my mother let me leave the house wearing them. The only solace I could find was in the fact that we were living in the 1970s and my teammates looked equally absurd.
I can’t help but think that the decades of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s were the lowest point in golf fashion, which is an oxymoron if I ever wrote one. However, golfers didn’t always look so geeky and you only have to look a little further back to find evidence.
Old photographs of the likes of Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and Sam Snead reveal dapper, elegant men in pleated oxford trousers and snappy brogues. They wore form-fitting, short-sleeved crewnecks and a variety of jaunty lids.
And, then came Arnold Palmer, with his thighs bulging through his drain-pipe pants, the only man I know who has more hair now than he did in the 1950s. Arnie made tight pants look great, even with an inch of sock showing. He had a flat belly, knotted forearms, and a lean and hungry look.
When the 1970s came along, golf went plaid. High-waisted, beltless slacks infested our pro shops, making it impossible to retrieve a scorecard from the hip pocket, unless you went for it over your shoulder.
The white patent belt was almost compulsory and shirt collars were so long and pointed they became extremely dangerous in high winds. They could put your eye out, for heaven’s sake.
Still, out of this mayhem came the relative calm of the 1980s, or so I thought until I saw the video of my first overseas victory — the 1984 ICL International in Pretoria, South Africa. I birdied the last to sneak past Nick Price. This time, your reluctant hero was clad in pink linen pants, a white shirt, and was sporting a pony tail held up with a matching pink ribbon. I remember I had about six different colored ribbons to match my various trousers. What the hell was I thinking? I mean, 14 years later, it strikes me there were television cameras and people watching me.
Frankly, I think it’s about time we revamp the golf look and if it weren’t for the variety of walking tackle out there, I’d say shorts were the answer. Unfortunately, all you’d have to do is let the pros wear them once and you’d see every variety of legs-from the hippo-like seam-ripper to the should-be-hanging-out-of-a-bird’s-nest type who has to take three paces before the shorts start to move. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see this on television.
I would much rather see a return of the short-sleeved crewneck and I believe Jesper Parnevik is striding in the right direction in his ankle stranglers. He experimented with different widths before settling on the drain pipes he now sports. (He tried even narrower ones, but found that every time he broke wind, his shoes would fly off, so up a notch he went.)
Fashion, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and time has a keen way of stripping away the veneer of how good we thought we looked at the time. Fortunately, it’s only in hindsight that we look ridiculous; although personally, I can’t believe I was stupid enough not to feel ridiculous at the time.
Check this space again in 20 years’ time, if you are spared, and I’m certain we’ll be laughing at what we are wearing now; although, as spiffy as I look right now, I can hardly see how.