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Can The Clothes Make You Da Man? In a desperate bid to improve his game, the author tries outfitting himself like some of the Tour's most distinctive dressers

May 26, 2003
May 26, 2003

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May 26, 2003

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Can The Clothes Make You Da Man? In a desperate bid to improve his game, the author tries outfitting himself like some of the Tour's most distinctive dressers

Like most great ideas, this one came to me while I was lying on
the couch--golf on in the background, sleep only moments away.
Duffy Waldorf was in contention, as were Scott Hoch, Davis Love
III and Jesper Parnevik. An absent Tiger Woods appeared in
highlight footage and commercials. ¶ Before my eyes rolled back
for the final time, these images converged, and there it was:
Good golfers have style. There are a number of notables with a
distinctive manner of dress, guys with looks that stand out. ¶
What evolved next was a plan simple yet sublime: Dress like the
best players and play better. With my handicap hovering at a
vertigo-inducing 23, I figured there was so much room for
improvement that if new threads could help anyone, they could
help me. ¶ Only one question remained: Which look would be right
for me? Trial and error seemed the only solution. So out went the
Dockers, the 20-year-old Izod and the giveaway cap. In came boxes
of high-end apparel that would make me look exactly like Love,
Parnevik, Waldorf, Woods and the late, great Payne Stewart. ¶
What follows are the true stories of my walk down the runway of
golf mode--that means fashion, Sluggo--and how I rated each
experience.

This is an article from the May 26, 2003 issue

Tiger's Sunday best--the maroon Nike shirt, the charcoal gray
pants, the Nike cap and the black Nike shoes--is so indelible
that, more than any of the other outfits, it feels like a
Halloween costume. With Duffy and Davis, I feel as if I'm wearing
golf clothes like theirs. With this ensemble I feel as if I'm
dressing up as Tiger.

And I have to tell you, it feels good. The pants are sharp and
have a slimming effect. The shirt hangs comfortably and makes my
shoulders appear wider. Even the shoes, shined to a reflective
sheen, make me feel buttoned-up and in control. Looking in the
mirror, I think that for the first time in years I appear...
athletic.

I'm playing today at my favorite muni, a place that always draws
a diverse crowd, and as I walk through the clubhouse, I suddenly
know what it feels like to be Anna Nicole Smith: Everyone is
looking me up and down and whispering and laughing. Reflexively,
I keep checking my fly. I'm matched with a father and son and end
up sharing a cart with Bea Decter, a middle-aged woman who
strikes the ball well and always seems to be enjoying herself. On
the opening par-5, three solid shots put me 25 feet from the cup.
My confidence is soaring. Then I drain the birdie putt and throw
out a mini-Woods uppercut of celebration, which draws stares but
no comments.

I follow with a tap-in bogey at 2 and head for the next hole with
the same fast, powerful strut Tiger rolls out when he's feeling
it. I am Tiger Woods, I think to myself, considering the truth in
advertising. But on the 3rd tee I drive into the trees, end up
with a snowman, then play double-bogey golf the rest of the front
nine.

As we wait on the 15th tee, I can't help but ask, "Didn't anyone
notice I'm dressed exactly like Tiger Woods?" "Yes!" says Bea. "I
noticed the shoes and thought, He looks exactly like Tiger, and
he looks good." I'm thankful but confused. Really, the shoes? But
Bill, the dad in the father-son duo, confirms Bea's assessment.
"Yep," he says, nodding, "I noticed the shoes." Looking down at
my feet, I'm a little surprised that the footwear is what tipped
off my playing partners, but for whatever reason, this revelation
seems to make me play better, as a bogey-bogey-par finish allows
me to leave on a positive note. I guess Spike Lee was right after
all--it must be the shoes. Now that's truth in advertising.

I've never been a huge DL3 fan; he's always struck me as a
weak-chinned, Southern blue blood who walked as if he had a load
of grits in his boxers. Still, Davis has the good sense to wear
Polo, which is pretty posh. The pants that the people at Polo
Ralph Lauren send me are made of a supple microfiber blend and
feel more like fine suit pants than your typical loungewear.
They're remarkably comfortable. The shirt, on the other hand, is
unremarkable--except for the logo on the chest, which always
reminds me of that weak-chinned polo-playing aristocrat Prince
Charles.

With a Polo sweater thrown over my shoulders, I look as if I'm
ready for an Ivy League mixer, even if I don't exactly resemble
Love. I have olive skin, brown hair, brown eyes and am working on
a five o'clock shadow. In truth, I'm more likely to be racially
profiled at airport security than to be mistaken for a golf pro
with a name that sounds like that of a character from Gone with
the Wind.

Regardless, I head for Hendricks Field in Belleville, N.J., a
well-worn muni with a decent front nine and a cramped back side
that butts up against a series of depressing houses that always
seem to be filled with screaming children. The clientele includes
a never-boring mix of retirees, third-rate wiseguys and
blue-collar hackers. As if to prove that point, there's a
threesome of players behind me who seem as if they've just come
from a construction site. They're dressed in dirty jeans, work
boots and matching blue sweatshirts that say AB/JR CONTRACTING on
the back.

My own group is no less interesting. There's John, who, with his
shaved head and black jeans, looks like Mr. Clean after a
six-month Krispy Kreme binge. Then there are Nick and Angelo, two
good fellows, in Jersey-speak, who despite the 48° temperature
are wearing shorts and untucked short-sleeved shirts. Not one of
my three playing partners weighs less than 260 pounds. Despite
the obvious disparity in the way we're dressed, no one says a
word, although when I introduce myself as Jim, two of the three
think I've said Chip. What's worse, dressed the way I am, I feel
ill-equipped to correct them and so spend the next few hours
responding to the name Chip.

As if this weren't bad enough, it soon becomes clear that my
silky khakis are a tad too tight, and with each step the soft
synthetic fibers creep up my inner thighs and emit a disturbing
little pffft sound. This wouldn't be so bad except that at the
end of a drought-addled summer, the course is drier than an AA
meeting, and I'm afraid of setting off a brushfire. Whether it's
this distraction or my own inability that causes my round to
collapse into a typical pattern of inconsistency, I can't say for
sure. But I know that I'll never again make fun of the way Love
walks.

The thing about the Duffy Waldorf apparel is that no single item
is that bad. It's when you put a red hat with leaf prints
together with a Hawaiian shirt with big yellow and brown flowers
that it gets painful. I consider myself a regular guy, though,
and there isn't a more regular guy on Tour than Waldorf, so I'm
thinking this look might work for me. But when I arrive in my
kitchen dressed to go, my three-year-old daughter looks up from
her Kix and, without missing a spoonful, says, "Nice shirt, Dad."
It's difficult to take fashion abuse from a three-foot-tall
person who's wearing bright orange, giraffe-patterned pajamas.

At the course I'm feeling a little self-conscious. No one says
anything, but I can feel a few people staring. It doesn't help
that Duffy seems to have a huge head. The signature THE DUFFY hat
I'm wearing fits like a bucket. I feel as if I could easily pack
half a muffin and a juice box in the space between the top of my
head and the top of the hat. Why a muffin and juice? It seems
like the kind of thing Duffy might tote around for an on-course
snack. At any rate, the capacious cap diminishes any chance I
have at working the look-good, feel-good, play-good vibe.

Back at Hendricks, today's round offers a grouping from the other
end of the spectrum: an older woman, Val, and a Korean couple who
don't say much but smile a lot. As we introduce ourselves, I
brace for the comments, but none come. Unlike my daughter these
people have learned the rules of fashion commentary: Say
something nice or say it behind the person's back.

Over the first seven holes I put up a string of bogeys. I think
the slightly improved play must be because I'm so focused on how
I look and who's going to make fun of me that I'm not thinking
about golf, which of course makes it easier to play. I begin to
assemble a self-image that matches the image of the player I'm
emulating. This reaches a peak midway through the back nine when
I crouch to read a putt and think that I've split my pants.
Luckily, all the seams are safe, but I can't imagine that no one
has an opinion about my outfit, so after making a long putt on
the 16th hole, I throw open the door: "Must be my lucky shirt," I
say. Everyone smiles and nods politely. What, I wonder, do I have
to do to get a reaction out of these people, pull a juice box
from my hat?

God bless Payne Stewart. I never appreciated how foolish it feels
to dress the way he did until I actually put on the outfit. How
he did it every week--never mind win majors in those
getups--boggles the mind. As I stand there in my floppy green
hat, yellow shirt, green knickers and green-and-yellow Argyle
socks, I look like the guy who finished last in the Green Bay
Packers' mascot tryouts. Even worse, I'm scheduled to play at a
muni in the heart of Newark, a facility that I'm told was shut
down years ago because of a series of on-course muggings. It's
much different today but still a little rough around the edges,
and it's a place where you don't want to show up looking like the
entertainment for a five-year-old's birthday party. The starter
tells me, "You're playing with the doctors today." Sure enough, I
tee off with Dr. Bill Anderson and Dr. Paul S. Freeman, two
pleasant middle-aged fellows who have about as much game as I do.
I'm hoping that in some way this outfit will have an effect
similar to that of the Duffy duds, in which I spent so much time
worrying about how dumb I looked that I didn't obsess about my
swing and actually played better. Out of the gate, it seems to be
working as I go bogey, par and find the green of the par-5 3rd in
three--then four-putt. On the 4th tee Paul goes first, but before
hitting he turns and says, "O.K., Jim, you look pretty, now it's
time to start playing pretty."

"I can't believe it took you this long to say something," I say.

"Oh," he says, smiling, "we said something. You just didn't
hear."

Paul is a sympathetic fellow. He tells me about his own pair of
knickers, which he got on a long-ago trip to St. Andrews. "Yeah,"
he says, finishing the story, "I ain't worn 'em since." As we
struggle around the course, Bill stops to admire my three-wood,
which has a striking blue metallic finish. After asking a few
questions, he walks away, saying, "Good-looking clubs,
good-looking clothes, you're doing all right." By the time we
finish, what's not looking good are my putting stats, which
include a four-putt and four three-jacks. As we're saying
goodbye, Bill offers some consolation. He tells me that even the
starter liked my outfit. "In fact, he said he was going to get
himself some of those," he says, motioning at my pants. I'm
tempted to make him a good deal on the spot.

Opening the box from J. Lindeberg, official outfitter of Jesper
Parnevik, is like opening a bag of Skittles--a kaleidoscope of
bright colors pours out. There's a black shirt, a brown-and-white
Argyle sweater vest with teal highlights, and a pair of crinkly
Gore-Tex pants the color of which so reminds me of a certain
tumultuous night in high school that I can't help but think of
the shade as screw-top Chianti. This raises the existential
question that could perhaps be the cause of Jesper's nosedive on
the money list: What socks do you wear with wine-colored pants?

But with this stuff it's as much about the fit as the color,
especially those low-slung, hip-hugging pants with the flared
bottoms. Past-their-prime suburban dads with a little extra
padding around the middle can't pull off the look. At 6'2" and
203 pounds I'm not exactly a porker, but I've never been called
wiry either. So I'm happy when the pants slide on easily, fit
well (I asked for them a size larger than I normally wear) and
feel good. I've been invited to play in an eight-man outing at a
nearby country club, a tony joint where I can take comfort in the
company of friends who'll be supportive. Of course, when I get
there, two club members almost run off a cart path craning their
necks to get a look at me.

After I find my friends, everything is much better. "Oh," says
Eamon, a smiling Irishman who's halfway through a Pall Mall,
"you're looking very Jesper-like today."

"That's the idea," I say. But once I start warming up on the
range, there's a problem: Things are going too well. Despite a
three-week layoff I'm striking the ball crisply. There's probably
no worse omen. Sure enough, the smooth practice-tee swing
disappears by the 4th hole. After one particularly painful triple
bogey Eamon asks, "So are your clothes giving you any magic
powers?"

"It doesn't look like it," I'm forced to admit. The lowest point
comes later, when we're all searching for a lost ball in the
woods in a corner of the course that runs by a busy road. As cars
go by, passenger-seat comedians all yell the same thing, "Fore!"
Then one yells something I've never heard before: "Nice sweater!"
Ouch. Looking down at my garish threads, I see his point. For a
moment I'm not sure if I'm Jesper's doppelganger or Tiger's pimp.

Wait a minute, aren't those the same thing?

COLOR PHOTOMONTAGE: PHOTOGRAPHS BY THEO WESTENBERGER; JIM GUND (BACKGROUND) TIGER SCORE 53-48--101 DID THE OUTFITWORK FOR ME? No. I'm not worthy.COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO (WOODS) [See caption above]COLOR PHOTOMONTAGE: PHOTOGRAPHS BY THEO WESTENBERGER; JIM GUND (BACKGROUND) DL3 SCORE 49-47--96 DID THE OUTFIT WORK FOR ME? Not really. It's just too uppity.COLOR PHOTO: SAM GREENWOOD/ICON SMI (LOVE) [See caption above]COLOR PHOTOMONTAGE: PHOTOGRAPHS BY THEO WESTENBERGER/JIM GUND (BACKGROUND) DUFFY SCORE 47-47--94 DID THE OUTFIT WORK FOR ME? Yes. Like my game, it's ugly but trying.COLOR PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES/ICON (WALDORF) [See caption above]COLOR PHOTOMONTAGE: PHOTOGRAPHS BY THEO WESTENBERGER/JIM GUND (BACKGROUND) PAYNE SCORE 47-50--97 DID THE OUTFIT WORK FOR ME? No. I don't have brass ones.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (STEWART) [See caption above]COLOR PHOTOMONTAGE: PHOTOGRAPHS BY THEO WESTENBERGER/JIM GUND (BACKGROUND) JESPER SCORE 50-49--99 DID THE OUTFIT WORK FOR ME? Kind of. My game needs comic relief.COLOR PHOTO: JAY LAPRETE/AP (PARNEVIK) [See caption above]