On the Green

Obama, Boehner, Biden, Kasich on the Golf Course: What Their Fashions Reveal

The presidential golf outing featured clothes a man could mow his lawn in, writes Robin Givhan.

AP Photo (2)

Virtually every American president in recent history has been devoted to the supremely dull game of golf, which can only be explained by the fact that it is the sole sport in which a man can wear a pair of baggy slacks or shorts and a loose-fitting polo shirt, putz around on beautifully landscaped grounds, and never break a sweat.

There is a kind of regular-guy dignity inherent in most golf attire—the heavily sponsored professionals of the U.S. Open notwithstanding. To be sure, the game has anything but a “we-the-people” buzz, despite its schlubby attire. It still has a nagging reputation as a sport dominated by advantaged white men—an image that Tiger Woods nicked but failed to destroy. It is associated with country clubs and gated communities, celebrities and flush retirees. It is the preferred pastime of corporate titans and power brokers because it allows so much time for conversation. It is a game of skill—like billiards or a Rubik’s cube—but it demands limited physical effort. Whose heart rate ever escalated during a game of golf in which players are driven from hole to hole? And even when the players do walk the course, it’s not as though they are moving at anything close to a sprint.

But golf fashion favors the Everyman. It steers safely clear of anything that is remotely body-conscious. The clothes do not require or even hope for an athletic physique. They offer no suggestions of aerodynamic speed or a masterful sense of balance and coordination. No, these are clothes that a man could well mow his lawn in.

And when the most powerful Democrat and Republican got together for 18 holes, the overwhelming sense of regular dude-ness, in the matter of their attire, was so overwhelming that it left one numb. When President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner gathered at Andrews Air Force Base for their long-anticipated—by the Washington press corps, at least—golf game Saturday afternoon, they were a study in staid. The president wore a pair of dark bark-colored trousers. (They appeared to be flat-front and for that let us all be grateful.) He paired the trousers with a white Nike short-sleeve shirt. The speaker was wearing a pair of beige shorts—pleated, alas—and a pale blue-and-white striped polo. The two men appeared to be wearing the same style golfing shoes—akin to a white-and-black saddle shoe.

In terms of attire, one did not upstage the other by looking more sophisticated or fashionable—or elitist, God forbid. They took their style cues from the suburban cul-de-sacs of America.

The other members of their foursome were Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich and Vice President Joe Biden. The vice president was considered—by those who keep track of such things—the best golfer. And so, perhaps his confidence on the course led to his decision to eschew the washed-out color palette of the other players and wear a sapphire-blue shirt and tan shorts. The jolt of deep color gave him a fairly elegant look. Indeed, he looked rather sophisticated. Nice job, sir. (But alas, he and his teammate, Kasich, lost on the 18th hole.)

Kasich dressed like a fellow from the hinterlands who simply refused to pretend that this golf outing was anything but pure political theater. He wore an Ohio State University shirt with its bright scarlet stripes racing down the shoulder seams and the school’s name emblazoned below the collar. It wasn’t exactly discreet—or even attractive—but it made a statement about just where Kasich’s allegiances lay. Not in the mad, overwrought world of federal Washington where a game—a game, people—had been transformed into a statement on moral character, but rather back in the great Midwest, where highways don’t go in circles and snowstorms are considered weather, not a national disaster.

If anything, Kasich dressed for the role of unabashed realist during this micro-managed publicity stunt. And as a result, he may have been the only one who came out of the day’s political putt-putt an actual winner.