The hat that has stolen the show in Rio
August 19, 2016
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- While Verchenova cannot take credit for the design of the hat, she does like how it keeps the sun out of her face. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Editor's note: Maria Verchenova carded a final-round, 9-under 62 at the Olympics on Saturday and finished T16.
RIO DE JANEIRO – So, uh, what’s with the hat?
“Just trying to protect my face,” insists Russian golfer Maria Verchenova. “I’m not wearing this hat because I absolutely love it. I just don’t want to get old by the age of 40.”
Verchenova is the 348th-ranked player in the world. Her hat is ranked No. 1 in curiosity this week. It’s a bit like an extra-large Panama hat that’s missing its top, so that her long, flowing locks can peek through.
The shade, as she mentioned, is the important thing.
People have asked her about it this week in Rio. Even though she has dabbled in fashion design and hopes to start her own line soon, this is not one of her creations. It’s part of the approved apparel by the Russian Olympic Committee.
She wasn’t trying to make a statement, but she does enjoy looking good on the course. Even though her game has not been stylish enough to contend for a medal – she’ll enter Saturday’s final round at 5 over, tied for 41st among the 59 players still in the field – she knows her hat has at least turned heads.
“Everybody’s been commentating about it, how cool it is,” Verchenova said.
She’s had competition – mainly from her own caddie who on Friday wore a bucket hat as part of an outfit that included tight shorts, ankle-high white socks and not-exactly subdued lettering on the front. It screamed Spaulding Smails -- that’s if Spaulding was a 23-year-old Brit who has suddenly developed a taste for ‘70s throwback Russian fashions.
“Those are the Russian outfits that have been given to him for the week,” Verchenova said. “I think he feels Russian even though he’s British. He’s been wearing Russian outfits 24/7. He even sleeps in them.”
But a bucket hat?
“He actually wears big hats – not exactly like me, but a little similar,” she said. “I think he’s very cool.”
Hard to argue with Verchenova. She’s one of the most stylish golfers on any women’s tour. When she became serious about becoming a professional golfer, she noticed the outfits worn by some of her competitors.
She was horrified.Verchanova and her hat have become a fun discussion topic. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
“Baggy pants. For females,” she said. “I’m not joking. Big t-shirts. That was like, ‘Oh my god!’ I went to the tour. I said, ‘Can I play in tennis dresses?’ They said, ‘Why not?’”
And so she’s made it a point to raise the fashion awareness among female pros. She tried to start her own collection a few years ago but was handling almost everything. It was taking too much attention away from her golf game, so she stopped.
Now, though, she’s putting together a team that will take her designs and turn them into a reality. She hopes to take some serious steps after the Olympics. By this time next year, she’d like to have her own line of clothes.
Her initial goal is simple -- to get more players to wear skirts instead of shorts.
“If you go to an LPGA event, how many girls wear dresses? Maybe one,” she said. “That’s it. So we’ll do something really cool, have some pockets.”
If she is able to launch her own collection, it’d be just another step in a life that seems to take one unique turn after another.
As a little girl in Russia, she dreamed of becoming a ballerina. She took classes, practiced hard – until she was 16 and told she was too tall. Four years earlier, she was on holiday in the Czech Republic when she was introduced to golf. She took to it immediately. Her skills as a ballerina helped her quickly pick up movements she now uses on the course.
Of course, it’s difficult to develop golf skills when you can only play six months a year due to the weather. Russian winters aren’t exactly conducive to producing future major winners. But she kept at it and became the first female golfer from the Russian Federation to play full-time on the Ladies European Tour. She’s had a few top 10s but no wins yet.
Meanwhile, she’s worked – not surprisingly – as a model. Five months ago, she started writing for the Russian version of Golf Digest. She plans to offer fashion advice in her columns.
Meanwhile, she balances her time between Houston, Texas (where her coach lives); France (where her boyfriend lives); London (where her manager lives); and Moscow (where her 4-year-old daughter lives).
Her daughter also is named Maria. And like her mom, she enjoys playing dress-up.
“She paints her nails and curls her hair,” Verchenova said. “I was the same at her age.”
This week, mother Maria’s hair has been spilling out of the top of her hat – the one that’s caused such a stir in the Olympics.