By Ted Bishop
For decades, the PGA Championship has fought to keep its status among golf’s four major championships. Last week, the PGA of America cemented itself as No. 4 with its decision to allow players to wear shorts during practice rounds in all of its championships.
Pete Bevacqua, the PGA’s chief executive officer, clearly wants to be the coolest guy in the room. In 2014, he intended to implement a shorts policy at Valhalla’s PGA Championship. As PGA president, I placed a call to Tim Finchem, then the commissioner of the PGA Tour, to gauge his position. Finchem opposed the idea because he thought that players wearing shorts during events didn’t reflect well on the Tour brand nor the professionalism that his players need to exhibit to sponsors and fans. After hearing Finchem’s concerns, the PGA dropped the idea.
Fast forward to 2017. When I heard that shorts would be part of the PGA Championship landscape, I thought that Jay Monahan, who recently replaced the retired Finchem, must hold a different opinion than his predecessor. That would have been a bigger story than shorts at the PGA.
It appears that the PGA Tour was not consulted by the PGA this time. Similar to yanking the Fall Series from the Ryder Cup points system, the PGA of America pulled the trigger on a new shorts policy to the apparent surprise of the Tour. I’m not saying that the PGA needs to ask the Tour for permission to do anything, but when a policy affects both organizations, collaboration should be required. It’s another example of the PGA being shortsighted.
In a statement, Monahan pointed to the Tour’s unique relationship with sponsors during Wednesday pro-am rounds.
“That special experience, which no other sport can provide – where one of the world’s best players can play alongside two, three or four amateurs and those amateurs can look at that player playing the same clothes, the same club, the same course over the next four days – we think that’s really special,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to protect that.”
Monahan said he will continue to listen and communicate with Tour pros regarding the dress code but does not expect an immediate change in policy. Several Tour players who were contacted by Morning Read would not comment, saying they had nothing to gain by offering a public opinion on the subject.
The Senior PGA at Trump National Golf Club in Washington in late May will be the first test for the shorts rule. Steve Stricker, who recently turned 50, is eligible to play and said, “I would wear shorts, especially if it is warm.”
Hale Irwin, 71, a World Golf Hall of Fame member who is the career leader in victories (45) and earnings ($27 million-plus) on the senior tour, said he might consent to the change, but it wouldn’t be easy.
“While I wear shorts nearly every day when at home or relaxing, I’m still uneasy after all these years about wearing shorts during a professional appearance,” Irwin said. “Undoubtedly, it is more comfortable to wear shorts during a hot time period, and I will probably succumb to the temptation to wear them during a practice round. We might need to have a fashion cop on the scene, however, to make sure that all shorts are appropriate and legs to match.”
It’s a safe bet that the Masters never would allow shorts to be worn by its contestants. It’s also difficult to envision the R&A permitting contestants to stroll down the 18th fairway at St. Andrews’ Old Course in shorts. And the U.S. Open? The USGA intends to raise the issue with its Championship Committee, a spokesman said. Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, said via email: “I am unsure at this point whether that committee will want to address it in the future.”
For decades, the PGA of America has told its male professionals that wearing shorts at work is unprofessional. Male PGA pros should not expect professional courtesy at another PGA golf course if they show up to play in shorts. Standards are different for female PGA pros. But, all PGA members have been schooled that shorts are casual and should not be worn at certain times.
It’s a new day at the PGA of America. Cool or professional? You can be both, but not while wearing shorts at the PGA Championship.
Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga