I recall reading an anecdote posted on an internet message board around the time of the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews. Its source, a British fan, claimed to have lingered in the vicinity of Rickie Fowler – then a source of infinite bemusement – as he hovered around the putting green, mobile phone in hand. His conversation was inaudible but for one telling sentence:
“What time do we have wardrobe tomorrow?”
Now, I have no way of verifying whether or not this sentence was uttered, but I choose to believe it was. I believe it because, to my mind, it reveals an essential truth. (Not just about a certain 23-year-old, but golf in general.)
Rickie Fowler – media construct, golf’s answer to Ziggy Stardust (ponder that!) - simply is the kind of guy who’d convene a meeting to discuss “wardrobe”, who’d draw on the expertise of designers, strategists and pollsters in a bid to clash one garish shade of orange with another and, in doing so, work fashion alchemy.
In the rarefied upper atmosphere of sports marketing, no act – even one as elementary as the selection and wearing of cloth garments – remains above calculation.
It is, my inner sports agent tells me, all about branding.
In 2010, Rickie Fowler’s embrace of a new aesthetic made him an anomaly; part-golfer, part-Bieber. Now he looks like a pioneer, a space-age innovator.
Apparel previews are all the rage, disseminated to all and sundry on the eve of major championships. Like punk music and amateur pornography (blame Kim Kardashian) before it, fashion planning has thrown off the shackles of stigma and shame; it’s hit the mainstream.
Tiger would no doubt counsel acceptance on my part.
“It is what it is, Conor,” he’d say. “It is what it is.”
But I can’t get with that.
I understand that professional golf supports a multimillion-dollar manufacturing industry; I appreciate that clothing companies will, naturally, seek to maximise their exposure; but when it comes to a sport so deeply in love with its own corporate image, diminutions in personality and expression, however minor, are felt all the more keenly.
Clothes maketh the man, but on the PGA Tour, the man has come to hide behind them.
It’s enough to make you see red – “Action Red,” in fact; the same shade Tiger will be wearing at Lytham on Sunday.