What are we really looking for when we talk about Ryder Cup fashion? We love ugly. Oh yes, we love to have fun with over-the-top, fancy designs. We love to poke fun at The Shirt from Justin Leonard’s famous 1999 putt. We live for the unique, not called for stripes or bold colors.
But what do we really want? We like sweaters. Lightweight, athletic sweater. Adam Scott-core. We want a cozy feeling in the European countryside at the start of autumn. We like clothes that feel like they’re from the 1960s but bring a more polished, modern flair.
Sometimes we get art. We get great clothes that look like the mythical letterman jacket that we will never be a part of. But sometimes we experience disasters. Crimes. Stylistic blasphemy that should be kept in the archives.
So ahead of this week’s Ryder Cup in Marco Simone’s Italian countryside, let’s take a look back at Ryder Cup outfits over the years. It is a journey.
This is the template. But it hardly changed through the ’50s and ’60s. V-neck sweaters. Tight collars. Great Britain wears a lot of simple cream colored sweaters every year. It was very good, and they did not deviate from it. The US wore simple polo shirts or dark blue sweaters.
But one thing stands out. From what seems like 1961 to 1965, the US rocked these great white zip-up jackets. They almost look like NBA warm-up jackets. Or maybe a mechanic will wear a really cool jacket. Imagine pulling up to a bar in this sweet, sweet jacket, calmly smacking the bar and saying, “the usual,” while Pete The Bartender slips a domestic beer.
Is this the beginning of Ryder Cup flair? This is the moment when the ’70s came to golf.
It was the first Ryder Cup in which Great Britain became “Great Britain and Ireland” and also the first with a slight European colour. Are orange-brown pants under blue sweaters? And plaid. Lots of plaid around. The British team had checkered collars on their sweaters. And I’m 90 percent sure that the US uniform designation is simply, “Bring your plaid pants.” But there are no actual uniform pants. They are all different. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in plain gingham, but different ginghams! Lee Trevino has more funky, creative plaid designs. It’s just the plaid, gentlemen.
I’m convinced that every outfit this season is something Lee Trevino has already worn and the captain decided to distribute it through the team. It’s big. It is colorful. And I really want to talk about collars. They are huge. When worn over a V-neck sweater (as usual), the collars are pushed up even more and look like those puffy-chested pirate shirts.
But the biggest news in my mind was the US on Sunday wearing baby blue V-neck sweaters with baby blue collared shirts underneath. Just pure baby blue in baby blue. At first I thought it was a singular collared sweater like our modern quarter-zips, but it wasn’t! If you look closely, you can see that they are separate. The confidence needed to get that, well, the US won 18 1/2 to 9 1/2.
Britain had expanded across continental Europe at this point, but still hadn’t won since 1957. But this was the year it broke the streak, and perhaps it was because it was the year it started to have fun. Yes, you have your classic cream sweaters, but let’s have some bold red pants to balance it out for a great look. Other days, it’s golden yellow pants with dark blue sweaters with another golden yellow shirt underneath. Potentially my favorite look of all.
Also, let’s pay an ode to European team style legend Bernhard Langer. She appears on the page in almost every ’80s competition, and I’m not entirely sure she’s wearing it right every day. In the foursomes he wore a collared shirt while Ken Brown wore a turtleneck. In the Sunday singles, he may be the only European wearing a white turtleneck under a bright red sweater. It’s a good look, but he can be rogue.
After a very, very dull stretch of American outfits, we started to see the rise of bright American designs in the ’90s. We’re not perfect yet, but what in the world are these sweaters? You have vertical stripes. You have horizontal stripes. You have an L, which, hey, the US didn’t lose so thank goodness it didn’t get thrown in their face. The V is also deep so it goes beyond their rib cage. Wild things.
The pinnacle of the sweater vest. Around. No notes. Just a great performance by both sides that brings art and contrast to the sweater vest aesthetic. A white sweater vest for Europe? Let’s get Steve a pink shirt underneath so it bounces perfectly. A forest green sweater vest? Europe mixes it up with a really soft blue with plaid pants. Amazing. And the US is no slouches. He rocked a really simple but strong red-white-and-blue look with a red sweater vest, white shirt and dark blue pants. It’s obvious but he’s swimming.
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 popular, but it’s a great rollercoaster for the United States all around. Even before we got to The Shirt, other days weren’t so great. It’s a whole lot of horizontal stripes and ugly colors. What’s with the black polo with what appear to be yellow horizontal double stripes? Nothing looks athletic about that.
But what you want to see is, of course, the Sunday shirt. The red shirt with the odd move to house more than half a century’s worth of framed photos of past US teams. Apparently, captain Ben Crenshaw oversaw it and spent a lot of time creating this shirt that honors the past. It’s just ironic that one of the most famous moments in Ryder Cup history — Justin Leonard sinking a 50-foot birdie putt on 17 to actually spark a huge US comeback from 10-6 — would end up being associated with that shirt . It became so popular that one of them sold for $3,906 in a 2018 auction.
I don’t care about Jim Furyk. He is a good golfer. By all accounts, he’s a good dude. But Furyk is boring. That’s almost part of his reputation. His best golf is also synonymous with pretty boring golf. So it’s fitting that every search for the 2002 and 2004 Ryder Cups seems to open up a photo with Furyk in a really boring outfit. In 2002, you saw some dark blue sweater vests with dark, boring red shirts. No energy. In 2004, it was a completely bland and empty dark blue sweater vest with a light blue shirt. It’s all the baggy, unflattering style of the 2000s. The early 2000s were possibly the worst style era in American history, but this 2006 image of an all-brown US look somehow tops it. What are we doing here guys?
This year is a strange outlier in the Ryder Cup aesthetics of the 21st century. If the aughts gave us dull and boring, and the last 10 years gave us very solid but uninspiring, 2010 was the year stuck in the middle that gave us fun. I’m not sure it all works very well, but it’s all interesting and lively.
Yes, that’s a lavender cardigan vest for the US Yes, that’s an all-black argyle European outfit. I even approve of the US’s tan sweater with a light blue shirt. And I’m here for the royal blue Sunday sweaters for Europe.
2012s and beyond
At this point, both teams settled on a new template. The European team has taken on the important color scheme of the European Union and everything they do is built around royal blue and white with yellow accents. And it works.
Meanwhile, the United States team started wearing Ralph Lauren outfits, and suddenly everyone was into that kind of timeless meets norm-core look. The US is obsessed with horizontal stripes, which I personally don’t like but I’ll accept because Ralph Lauren does it well. Everything is rooted in a red, white and blue look with dark blue bases and red accents. Polos always come with a lot of funky blocking or unusual stripes. It never looks bad. It also doesn’t look very natural. The USA logo always looks dorky-trying-to-be-modern like a created expansion team in a video game, but that’s okay. We probably won’t see another 1999, but we won’t get some of those great ’80s looks either.
The 2014 flag sweater
I’m going to wrap this up, because I need you to tell me your thoughts. The 2014 plain blue sweater with nothing but a full American flag stuck right in the middle. Is this a wonderful, simple use of minimalism? Or a bit stupid? I need all your thoughts, because my gut says this 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)