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Why Phil May Be Hot Under the Collar

Hot_CollarsJack and Arnold have, for years, made their preferences clear. For that matter, Tiger has made his own bold statement about it, too.

So why not Phil?

Taking his turn, and wearing his preference just under the collar, Phil theThrillFashionista has made an aggressive style statement by wearing button-downbutton-under collars in the last several weeks.

In golf’s long and somewhat tortuous history with knit collars, Phil’s break with his peers and interest in wearing something unique constitute a true fashion statement that could rank — if he sticks with it – with Tiger’s advocacy of the mock turtleneck and both Jack and Arnold’s noted career-long predilection for hard collars.

As golfers of a certain age moved toward the senior tour in the last 30 years, the modern soft-collar era (think everyone from Polo and Lacoste to Nike and adidas) was ushered in. If you were to calculate market share, it probably has been running 97 percent soft collars to three percent hard in knit golf shirts for the last 20-odd years.

Phil’s distinctive button-under collar with an extended four-button placket is part of his recent revamped appearance that includes torso-accentuating seams on his custom-made knit shirts and too-short short sleeves. (For a moment, let’s confine our discussion to the collar because there are many who think that body-conscious concave seams, which are commonplace in women’s sportswear, don’t belong on any golfer not named Camilo or Tiger.)

So back to the collar. Will it catch on? Will golfers who actually wash their own shirts be interested in fidgeting with a button-under collar on Saturdays even (or perhaps especially) if they’re wearing button-down collars five days a week to the office? Where did this look come from? Since apparel designs typically defy patent law, how quickly will sportswear designers have shirts with this collar style available for purchase in retail channels and golf shops?

First: a sincere hat tip to Phil. An inveterate tinkerer when it comes to equipment (four wedges, two drivers…who knows how many swing aids and club prototypes must be sitting around the spare rooms in Rancho Santa Fe?), he’s also shown the same proclivity for taking chances with his sportswear (with one notable exception) as he does with his shot making. He wore some flat-out crazy things — Fairway Blues (yikes!) — at the start of his career. Those duds looked like something gender-bending pop star George Michael might have worn if he’d been a golfer. Then there were Phil’s years with Hugo Boss, when, on occasion, he looked sharp but at other times he seemed less (or, in his case, slightly more) than the ideal poster boy for a sleek European sportswear brand whose profile is slender, cool and aloof.

His most recent phase — simply doing what he finds pretty interesting because he doesn’t have an apparel sponsor, per se — likely has been hastened by his improved fitness and weight loss, but he still has a 38-inch waist and is 15 shy of lean and svelte. Which explains why he still would rather lay up on a par five than be seen in a striped shirt. If he wants to continue with those short short sleeves, he’s going to have to enlist Michelle Obama’s personal trainer or, at least, her bicep curl regimen.

That said, he saw something he liked — I suspect on Graeme McDowell — and did what any self-respecting style maven would do: He appropriated it for his own. While McDowell’s shirtmaker may have turned him onto this collar style, Johan Lindeberg has done button-down collars on golf shirts and Giorgio Armani has long experimented with different button-under styles on woven sport and dress shirts.

Though designers and sportswear executives might quibble about how it looks and whether it makes Phil’s oval face appear longer, they should get down on their knees and thank the world’s second-most visible golfer for daring to shake things up. I’d guess that half a dozen companies already have button-unders, button-downs and assorted variations and prototypes in the design pipeline and that they’ll be on the shelf for fall, which, in retail and golf, arrives pretty much between the British Open and the PGA Championship. Here’s hoping at that late date that Phil the Fashionista still fancies the style. — Robert Lohrer

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