Let's face it: Golf has always been the place where fashion goes to die.
For too many, the game evokes disturbing images of a tubby Jack Nicklaus decked out in a canary-yellow polo shirt, white belt and red madras slacks, or Hale Irwin holing a putt in checked bell-bottoms and a shaggy, salmon-colored sweater, the golf equivalent of Sonny Bono's bobcat vests.
Look, if you win the Masters, the game's most prestigious tournament, they hand you a green jacket that looks like someone ripped the drapes off the wall at a Knights of Columbus hall, lugged them over to a sewing machine and yelled: "You're a 44 regular, right?"
But a new low might have been reached Sunday.
Did you get a load of the shirts worn by the U.S. Ryder Cup team?
Yesterday, around breakfast nooks in countless homes and around the coffee machine in countless offices throughout this great nation, much of the talk was of the stirring U.S. victory over the Europeans in the Ryder Cup matches in Brookline, Mass., this past weekend.
But many TV viewers were still reeling from the fashion horror show put on by the U.S. team.
For those who missed it, after two days of looking relatively snazzy in bluish-gray striped polo shirts, the American players arrived for their Sunday matches decked out in loud maroon shirts trimmed in brown with -- here's where it gets ugly -- photographs of previous American Ryder Cup teams plastered all over them.
They looked like bad Hawaiian shirts.
The kind you'd wear to your first luau.
When Justin Leonard rolled in his stunning 45-foot birdie putt that broke the Europeans' hearts, you kept waiting for someone to start pouring a pitcher of mai-tais and slap a pig on a spit.
In any event, the shirts had both ardent and casual golf fans buzzing yesterday. Reaction from the national media was, as usual, swift and merciless.
From the Los Angeles Times: "Those U.S. picture shirts: Looked like pajamas, guess that's why players were so comfortable. Who gets that marketing deal? Kodak?"
From the Toronto Star: "The joy of winning and the agony of losing. The beauty of watching the electric Sergio Garcia bounce around, the pure ugliness of those American Ryder Cup shirts."
So even as the euphoria of the American win wafted everywhere, many in the media were consumed by a new mission -- tracking down who was to blame for those ugly shirts. Exactly who do we nail to the wall for this one?
According to PGA of America, the governing body that oversees the Ryder Cup matches, the shirts were designed by a clothing firm affiliated with U.S. team captain Ben Crenshaw, with major input from Crenshaw himself.
But during a phone call to PGA of America headquarters, a spokeswoman said she thought the shirts actually had been designed by Crenshaw's wife, Julie.
Whether it was the golfer or his wife who was at fault could not be determined yesterday. A phone call to Scott Sayres, the agent who represents Crenshaw, was not returned.
What saddened many who saw Sunday's loud fashion don't was that golf clothing has come so far since the days when polo shirts with wide lapels, hairy sweaters and madras and polyester pants were the rule on the tour.
Tiger Woods' line of apparel is lauded by fashion critics and is hugely popular with young golf fans, while the stylish clothing bearing Greg Norman's "Shark" logo is coveted by many middle-aged golfers.
In fact, at the golf shop at The Country Club in Brookline, site of the Ryder Cup matches, fans were snapping up expensive golf togs in a shopping frenzy this weekend. The Boston Globe cited one source as saying the shop was selling about 1,000 shirts every 2 1/2 hours.
(Fortunately, none of them were the hideous togs the U.S team was wearing. Apparently -- thank God -- those aren't in stores yet.)
Golf fashion has improved markedly in recent years because "more 'design-type people' are getting involved," says Edward Steinberg, president of JS Edwards Ltd., an upscale men's clothing store in Pikesville.
"The golf population has demanded better quality and looks," he says. "And there are some good looks out there."
But the U.S. Ryder Cup shirts, which will be known as the luau shirts from this day forward, would not be among them.
"I personally did not find the shirts hideous," Steinberg said diplomatically. "Although I've seen a lot of other [golf] shirts that were a lot more handsome, let's put it that way."
Or let's put it this way: Big win Sunday, but ugly, ugly shirts.