ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – When Phil Mickelson showed up to the 1st tee at the Old Course on Thursday morning, a whisper ran through the crowd.
Was that a t-shirt?
Mickelson was dressed head-to-toe in his characteristic shade of Aggressive Black. His only visible logo was his own — his jumping silhouette from the 2004 Masters — on his hat. He wore black slacks and a blank black quarter-zip. But under that quarter-zip was what appeared to be a simple black t-shirt.
Don’t take this as a critique. This writer plays most of his golf collar-free and supports the right of others to do so, too. But this writer also plays none of his golf on the PGA Tour nor at St. Andrews. So Mickelson’s casual approach called to mind an age-old question: What’s pro golf’s dress code, anyway? And how ’bout in this event, at this course?
PGA Tour dress code
The world’s preeminent tour has softened the specifics around its dress code in recent years. In what ways? Shorts are now permitted in practice rounds, for one thing. And the language dictating player dress is intentionally vague. Here’s what it says in Tour pros’ handbook:
Players shall present a neat appearance in both clothing and personal grooming. Clothing worn by players shall be consistent with currently accepted golf fashion. The Chief Referee shall interpret this regulation, subject to the approval of the Commissioner.
Pretty open-ended, right? Under a list of Frequently Asked Questions on the Tour’s website, they dive a little deeper:
“Golf attire and fashion is always changing and evolving. T-shirts, jeans, or shorts (for players) are considered inappropriate. Our officials monitor player appearance for violations while allowing players to express their own personal styles.”
That would make it seem like a t-shirt would be a fashion faux pas — but that was written in 2017. T-shirts have made strides since then!
St. Andrews Dress Code
Here’s where it really gets fun. The PGA Tour co-sanctions the Open, but it’s certainly not in charge. The Old Course calls the shots ’round here. (The Open did not immediately respond to a request about its specific dress code.) And these folks have a very specific idea as to how things should be done. There’s an entire page on the course’s website devoted to exactly that!
“The following rules concerning the golf club dress code are applicable to all Members, spouses, children and guests of The Saint Andrew’s Golf Club,” it begins. Nearly 1000 words follow. Some highlights:
1. The following attire is not permitted at Saint Andrew’s Golf Club at any time: (a) denim of any type or color (except on Fridays – see jeans/denim policy below); (b) work out clothes of any kind, including but not limited to, sweat pants and shirts; (c) sports jerseys, including but not limited to, basketball or football jerseys; (d) basketball shorts, gym shorts, or other athletic or work out shorts; (e) men’s shirts without collars (turtlenecks and shirts of a style sold in the pro shop are permitted); and, (f) golf shorts more than four inches above the knee.
That final bit seems to discourage t-shirt wearing, as t-shirts are decidedly without collars. Although the pro shop likely sells t-shirts, too, so there could be a loophole there.
Sidenote: There’s an entire section devoted to what basically amounts to “Casual Fridays,” which permits denim-wearing, so long as it’s none of the following:
• Is excessively worn, distressed and/or acid-washed;
• Is ripped or torn, including but not limited to “cut-off” style shorts;
• Is excessively baggy and/or low-slung;
• Features exterior pockets in the style of “cargo” pants or shorts
The final verdict
Did Mickelson violate any rules, whether written or implied? The answer’s not as clear as you might think. Sure, those in charge don’t seem too crazy about t-shirts. But Mickelson was wearing a quarter-zip, which feels pretty collar-ish and should put him in the clear. Plenty of guys wear no-collar layers under shirts or sweaters. Is this really that different? Plus, hoodies — former scourges of certain corners of the golf world — dotted St. Andrews on Thursday afternoon, representing positive progress in the linksland’s collective closet.
Two questions remain, then. The first: Why? Mickelson’s wardrobe has in recent weeks consisted of Phil-logoed shirts and pullovers, both at LIV events and in practice rounds earlier this week.
Nobody asked him about the t-shirt in his post-round press conference; there were more pressing matters to attend to, like Mickelson’s opening-round 72, the reasoning behind his absence at the Champions Dinner or his latest feelings on LIV vs. the PGA Tour. But that leads us to our second question, which might undercut this entire article: