What are we really looking for when we talk about Ryder Cup fashion? We love the ugly. Oh yes, we love having fun with the over-the-top, gaudy designs. We love poking fun at The Shirt from Justin Leonard’s famous 1999 putt. We live for the weird, uncalled for stripes or the bold colors.
But what do we really want? We want sweaters. Light, athletic sweaters. Adam Scott-core. We want cozy feels in the European countryside as fall begins. We want clothes that feel like the 1960s but bring more polish and modern flair.
Sometimes we get art. We get beautiful clothes that look like the mythical letterman jacket we’ll never get to be part of. But sometimes we get disasters. Crimes. Stylistic blasphemy that should be hidden from the archives.
So ahead of this week’s Ryder Cup in the Italian countryside of Marco Simone, let’s look back on Ryder Cup outfits throughout the years. It’s been a journey.
This is the template. But it hardly ever changed through the ’50s and ’60s. V-neck sweaters. Tight collars. Great Britain wore a whole lot of simple cream-colored sweaters every year. It looked great, and they didn’t veer away from it. The U.S. wore simple polos or dark blue sweaters.
But there is one item that stands out. From what appears to be 1961 through 1965, the U.S. rocked these beautiful white zip-up jackets. They almost look like NBA warm-up jackets. Or maybe a really cool jacket a mechanic would wear. Imagine pulling up to a bar in this sweet, sweet jacket, calmly smacking the bar and saying, “the usual,” as Pete The Bartender slides over a domestic beer.
Is this the beginning of Ryder Cup flair? It’s the moment it feels like the ’70s arrived in golf.
This is the first Ryder Cup in which Great Britain became “Great Britain and Ireland” and also the first with a little European color. Are those orange-brown pants under those blue sweaters? And plaid. So much plaid all around. The British team had plaid collars over their sweaters. And I’m 90 percent sure the U.S. uniform assignment was purely, “Bring your plaid pants.” But there were no actual uniform pants. They’re all different. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus are in simple gingham, but different gingham! Lee Trevino has more of a funky, creative plaid design. Just as long as its plaid, gentlemen.
I’m convinced every outfit of this era is simply something Lee Trevino was already wearing and the captain decided to distribute it through the team. It’s big. It’s colorful. And I really want to talk about the collars. They are so damn big. When worn with a V-neck sweater (like they usually are), the collars get pushed up even more and look like those puffy-chested pirate shirts.
But the biggest news in my mind was the U.S. on Sunday wearing baby blue V-neck sweaters with baby blue collared shirts underneath. Just pure baby blue on baby blue. At first I thought it was a singular collared sweater like our modern quarter-zips, but no no! If you look close enough you can see they’re separate. The confidence it takes to pull that off, well, U.S. won 18 1/2 to 9 1/2.
Britain had expanded to all of continental Europe by this point, but it still hadn’t won since 1957. But this was the year it broke the streak, and maybe it’s because it’s the year it started to have some fun. Yeah, you’ve got your classic cream sweaters, but let’s let some bold red pants balance it out for a beautiful look. On another day, it was goldish-yellow pants with dark blue sweaters with another goldish-yellow shirt underneath. Potentially my favorite look of all.
Also, let’s give an ode to European team style legend Bernhard Langer. He pops off the page in almost all of the ’80s competitions, and I’m not entirely sure he’s wearing the correct thing each day. In foursomes he is wearing a collared shirt while Ken Brown is wearing a turtleneck. On Sunday singles, he might be the only European wearing a white turtleneck under the bright red sweater. It’s a great look, but he might be going rogue.
After a very, very dull stretch of American outfits, we begin to see the rise of the gaudy American designs of the ’90s. We’re not fully there yet, but what in the world are these sweaters? You’ve got vertical stripes. You’ve got horizontal stripes. You’ve got an L, which, hey, the U.S. didn’t lose so thank goodness that couldn’t be thrown in their face. The V is also so deep it goes past their rib cage. Wild stuff.
The peak of the sweater vest. All around. No notes. Just a beautiful performance by both sides bringing art and contrast to the sweater vest aesthetic. A white sweater vest for Europe? Let’s get Steve a pink shirt underneath to perfectly bounce off it. A forest green sweater vest? Europe mixes it with a really soft blue with plaid pants. Wonderful. And the U.S. were no slouches. It rocked a really simple but strong red-white-and-blue look with a red sweater vest, a white shirt and dark blue pants. It’s obvious but done swimmingly.
I’m making my editor put a picture of the European women’s wives’ sweaters just so you can see it too.
The Shirt is the most famous, but what a rollercoaster for the United States all around. Before we even get to The Shirt, the other days aren’t much better. It’s a whole lot of horizontal stripes and ugly colors. What is up with the black polo with seemingly yellow horizontal double stripes? Nobody looks athletic in that.
But the one you all want to see is, of course, the Sunday shirt. The red shirt with a bizarre move to put more than a half-century worth of framed photos of past U.S. teams. Apparently, captain Ben Crenshaw oversaw it and put a lot of time into making this shirt that honors the past. It is just extra comical that one of the most famous moments in Ryder Cup history — Justin Leonard sinking a 50-foot birdie putt on 17 to essentially pull off a large U.S. comeback from down 10-6 — will be forever linked with that shirt. It’s become so famous that one of them sold for $3,906 in a 2018 auction.
I have no qualms with Jim Furyk. He was a great golfer. By all accounts he’s a good dude. But Furyk is boring. That’s almost part of his reputation. His best golf was also synonymous with somewhat boring golf. So it is quite fitting that every search for the 2002 and 2004 Ryder Cups seems to open with a photo with Furyk in a really boring outfit. In 2002, you see some dark blue sweater vests with dark, boring red shirts. No energy. In 2004, it’s a completely bland and empty dark blue sweater vest with a light blue shirt. All of it is that baggy, unflattering style of the 2000s. The early 2000s are possibly the worst era of style in American history, yet the 2006 photo of an all-brown U.S. look somehow tops it. What are we doing here, guys?
This year is strangely an outlier in the Ryder Cup aesthetics of the 21st century. If the aughts gave us dull and boring, and the last 10 years have given us very solid but uninspiring, 2010 is the year stuck in the middle that gave us fun. I’m not sure all of it quite works, but all of it is interesting and lively.
Yes, that’s a lavender cardigan vest for the U.S. Yes, that is an all-black argyle European outfit. I even approve of the U.S.’s tan sweater with a light blue shirt. And I’m here for the royal blue Sunday sweaters for Europe.
2012s and on
By this point, both teams have settled into a new template. The European team has taken on essentially the European Union color scheme and everything they do is built around that royal blue and white with yellow accents. And it works.
Meanwhile, the United States team started getting outfitted by Ralph Lauren, and suddenly everything took on that sort of timeless meets norm-core look. The U.S. has become obsessed with horizontal stripes, which I personally do not like but I will accept because Ralph Lauren does it well. Everything is rooted in a red, white and blue look with dark blue bases and red accents. The polos always include a lot of funky blocking or unusual stripes. It never looks bad. It also never looks super natural. The USA logo always looks dorky-trying-to-be-modern like a created expansion team in a video game, but it’s fine. We’ll likely never see another 1999, but we’ll also never get some of those beautiful ’80s looks.
The 2014 flag sweater
I’ll end on this, because I need you all to tell me your thoughts. The 2014 plain blue sweater with nothing but a full American flag stuck right in the center. Is this an awesome, simple use of minimalism? Or is it kinda stupid? I need all of your thoughts, because my gut says it is bad.
(Illustration: Eamonn Dalton / Getty Images; Photos: Andy Lyons / Getty Images, Rusty Jarrett, Simon Bruty / Allsport via Getty Images, Timothy A. Clary / AFP via Getty Images)