Fashion Insider: What really went wrong with U.S. rain suits

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The rain suits featured "USA" and players names across the backs, as well as stripes on the arms and legs.
October 08, 2010
Man in the Black Hat, PGATOUR.COM Fashion Insider

Past the lavender cardigans and beyond the bell bottom trousers, patriotic ribbon belts and Imperial Classic hats lies the biggest apparel story of this Ryder Cup, in a soggy lump in the corner of the U.S. Ryder Cup team room. Rain suits.

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Little did Lisa Pavin know that with all the fashion risks she took, that the mighty rain suit would turn out to be the fashion choice that would be remembered above all. It was one thing for the rain suit to come under criticism for looking too much like a basketball warm up suit -- to each their own opinion -- but it became quite another when some deemed the choice a failure from a performance perspective when asked to shield its wearer from the elements.

By all accounts, Friday's rain in Wales was a deluge of epic proportions -- pouring down to such an extent that had it not been the first day of the Ryder Cup, and had Sir Terry Matthews, a man who had once gone in to business to import and sell hovering lawn mowers, not put the better part of a decade and a billion dollars into hosting the event, golf would have been the last thing happening on the property that day.

Nonetheless, golf was on the dance card, and the rain suits so proudly displayed a couple of weeks ago at a U.S. Ryder Cup fashion show that followed on the heels of the announcement of the Captains picks, were front and center.

The story should, by this point be well documented. But to review, under extreme conditions during Friday's play at the 2010 Ryder Cup, a U.S. player, or players, voiced their concern over the performance of the U.S. rain suit, manufactured by Sun Mountain Sports of Missoula, Mont. But, were the players actually getting wet due to the rain suit, or were the conditions so adverse that any garment, regardless of manufacturer, let moisture penetrate?

Combing the transcripts of Ryder Cup press conferences, nary a single U.S. player can be found speaking ill of the Sun Mountain offering. Instead, all we find are positives. Taken from Friday's press interactions, Dustin Johnson, Stewart Cink, and Bubba Watson all claim to have had no issues with the performance of Sun Mountain's custom RainFlex gear.

When asked what he thought of the rain suits, Dustin Johnson simply replied, "They were great."

Next, when Stewart Cink was asked how bad the rain suits were, he offered, "It was raining so hard, they took on a little bit of water, because just about any rain suit in the world will do that. It was really more of a function of how hard it was raining on us than the suit itself."

Finally, long hitting Bubba Watson, when asked how the rain suits were replied by saying, "I loved them. They were great. Some people had some problems with them. Some water was I guess seeping through, but we were winning so we were having a good time."

Based on these remarks, we can conclude that a) no rain suit would have stood up to the kind of rain that came down on Friday at the Ryder Cup, and b) performance wasn't an issue.

So why did the PGA of America double their waterproof efforts so quickly on Friday, purchasing thousands of dollars (paying retail no less, ugh!) worth on generic Ryder Cup logoed rain suits by ProQuip, who also happened to be the supplier of the European Ryder Cup side? It's likely that a few squeaky wheels may have been greased, especially when word filtered out from the European side that they were a dry and comfy while enduring the same conditions on Friday.

Mind games perhaps? Would European gamesmanship possibly extend to the equipment side of things? You bet it would.

When contacted to provide comment on Sun Mountain's product and the company's involvement in the 2010 Ryder Cup, Sun Mountain public relations representative offered the following.

"We do not pay anyone to wear or carry Sun Mountain and even with that over 100 tour players choose to wear our RainFlex and put their sponsors logos on it. These players are choosing to wear RainFlex with no financial incentive to do so. They are wearing it because they prefer it over gear from there sponsors because it performs better on the course. It's the combination of waterproof/breathable AND stretch that makes RainFlex stand out."

It's also important to understand the technology behind what is used in Sun Mountain's RainFlex product, and how it reacts when wet. Just because a jacket, or pant, 'wets out' doesn't mean it leaks. The fabric used in the RainFlex line can get wet without the player getting wet. If anything the U.S. team may have felt the suit get 'heavy', which may have triggered the reaction.

As an interesting aside, the PGA of America precludes any of the apparel suppliers to promote themselves through on-garment logo placement at the Ryder Cup (save of course for the prominently featured ProQuip gear the U.S. ended up with), nor are the suppliers allowed to sell replica lines at retail. The only publicity and brand awareness was to have come through the aforementioned fashion preview held in New York City.

Unfortunately, Sun Mountain ended up receiving more than it bargained for. But for what?

It's hard to know. On the surface, it looks like some complained. Digging deeper, we know that some didn't, and some actually had no problem with the performance of the Sun Mountain product whatsoever.

Could it be that some had issues with wearing outerwear from those other than those who endorse them personally? Might some have preferred to deflect blame for any poor play, potential or realized, onto an outside factor such as rain gear, rather than look to within?

Those on the European side may have talked of not being affected by the down pour to get in American players' kitchen. After all, it's no secret that the Europe team had an edge playing in Europe, with weather and their ability to cope with it being a strong part of their advantage.

Certainly, there are a myriad of potential factors that lead a selection of American players to take issue with the rain suits. At the end of the day, maybe it was all about the font. A note to the next American captain (and captainess) -- go Helvetica Neue.

Black Hat Ticker

• Now that the pesky rain suit issue is out of the way, lets count the guys who did their best to avoid wearing what the Captainess had so painstakingly chosen for them. Tiger Woods consistently did his best Boo Weekley impression in Wales, wearing rain paints (of whatever variety), on almost every occasion save for the opening ceremonies, seemingly in an effort to avoid donning the bell bottom.

• We must be thankful for the Welsh weather on certain levels, for it reintroduced us to galoshes, and made them golf watching essentials for many, including Lisa Pavin. It's a shame we don't say 'galoshes' in everyday parlance more often, don't you think?

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• Did Steve Williams play or caddy at the Ryder Cup? By the attire, The Man In The Black Hat is hard pressed to tell. Oh and the shorts in October in Wales? Really?

Hunter Mahan surprised The Man In The Black Hat, and likely offended the PGA of America all the way to the sponsorship bank with his Under Armour thermal base layer. Certainly it's all about comfort, but for one weekend, could put on the cardigans and sweater vests you were given?

• Dustin Johnson went off script without the red, white, and blue ribbon belt during the singles matches, though it proved not to be bad karma as he defeated PGA Championship nemesis Martin Kaymer 6 & 4.

• As for the European Ryder Cup team, Colin Montgomerie and supplier Glenmuir functioned on a stylishly adequate level, almost to the point of being demure. Narrow though extremely tasteful v-neck merino sweaters ruled the European weekend, though there wasn't much to write home about. Some will argue that's just the way it should be, as all energies should be saved for the on course competition, and not that which lies on the fashion runway. Congrats to the winning side for a competition well played. Point taken ;)

• Is there anything worse than playing a round of golf on a soggy track in your favorite trousers? Not for The Man In the Black Hat there isn't, which made the entire event a cringe fest only of which Muddy Mudskipper would be proud, as blotches of Welsh countryside progressively made its way up player's trouser legs.

• Which leads one to wonder what's going to happen to all that gear now anyway -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Perhaps some enterprising young gent with an eye for golf fashion should offer to start some sort of Ryder Cup Hall Fashion Hall of Fame/Shame.

Now there's an attraction you'd be sure not to miss during your next trip to the World Golf Hall of Fame, no?

The Man in the Black Hat is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.