When Keith Mitchell was young, his dad took him to the local clothing store in Chattanooga, Tennessee to buy his first pair of dress pants—a natty pair in gray houndstooth. “I wanted to wear them almost every day in the winter because I liked the way they fell,” he says. He wanted to wear them to golf, too. But Mitchell, like most boys who grow up to become professional golfers, spent large chunks of his childhood wearing something else: the khakis and polo shirts required by local country clubs, where he’d practice against grown-up competition. Houndstooth slacks just weren’t a fit.
They weren’t an option in college, either, at the University of Georgia. The golf team there was sponsored by Nike, so Mitchell was swooshed from head to toe. (He did show up on one blustery day wearing two of his dad’s old cashmere sweaters. “You look like you’re about to play Augusta National,” his teammates said.) He went pro in 2014, and spent the first half-decade of his career wearing the slim and stretchy fabrics that comprise almost all contemporary golf clothing.
But when Mitchell’s contract with his apparel sponsor lapsed at the end of 2020, he had an idea. He’d long done his off-course shopping with Sid Mashburn, the Atlanta-based menswear designer and shopkeeper. “I was like, ‘I want to elevate my look,’” Mitchell says, “and they were the first people that popped in my head because I’ve known them for so long. I’ve shopped with them forever and I got to be good friends with them. And when I brought it up, they were like, ‘Well, we’ve never done this before, so let’s give it a shot.’”
The Mashburn crew pulled together a sort of moodboard: old shots of a cardigan-wearing Arnold Palmer and the Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros. “We said, ‘Everything we’re going to do with you is going to be kind of old-timey and a throwback,’” Sid explains, palming an old coffee table book about Palmer. “And so everything that he’s put on is something that is a natural fiber: all cotton, all wool or cashmere.”
It doesn’t sound like a lot. But in a sport like golf, where one player applying principles of physics to hit the ball further than his peers occasions nothing short of an existential meltdown, wearing natural fibers is basically heresy. Walk into any pro shop and take a deep breath, and you’ll catch the fumes of the plasticky fabrics that dominate the golf landscape. Palmer might have worn wool sweaters, the thinking goes, but he also smoked cigarettes on the course. Today’s golfers, who lift weights and do yoga, prefer slimmer, stretchier stuff.
It turns out that they might not need all that spandex-kissed poly-cotton. When Mitchell dropped by Sid’s Atlanta shop for a fitting, he made sure to put them through a golfer’s paces. “I was squatting up and down, reading putts, taking swings, doing all these crazy athletic things in these pants,” he says. “I was like, ‘If I can’t do this in here, I’m definitely not going to be able to do it out there.’” The goods made the cut, and Mitchell wound up with a small wardrobe of pants, polos, sweaters, and one alligator belt. (Mini-empire of stores notwithstanding, Mashburn is not Nike. This is a different sort of sponsorship: Mitchell purchased his own gear, albeit at a discount.)
There was a brief conversation about where to put the logos of Mitchell’s sponsors—the Sid team would have preferred none, for the look, while Mitchell, who derives a chunk of his income from them, explained that they’d be staying—and another about hems. “Their style might be a little shorter than mine, but I was like, ‘As long as the pants touch my shoes, I’m okay,’” Mitchell says. Footwear was easy: “He’s got a deal with FootJoy shoes,” Mashburn says, “which to us is cool because that’s a little bit of a throwback golf brand, as well.”
The golf season picked back up in January with a swing through the sunny climes of Hawaii and southern California. Mitchell’s new pants—which, again, can be your pants, if you’d like—are designed to hold up in all sorts of weather. They’re made from the brand’s plain weave, Mashburn explains. “The yarns are fat, so it breathes naturally. In a weird way, it’s a natural performance fabric—because it’s like it just came off the dadgum sheep, you know? I mean, it really is made for this, without having performance properties.”
And while they might perform just as well as a pair of stretch-fabric, moisture-wicking technical marvels, Mitchell’s Mashburn pants catch looks on the course. “The first thing everybody says is ‘old school.’ Then they look and they see the pants with no belt loop, and then they see the pleats, and then they see the cuffs, and then their heads start spinning because I got all three. Because everybody now is wearing five-pocket, no pleat, belt loop, no cuff. That’s just across the board. And I’ve gone completely the other way.” The irony that Mitchell stands out for wearing what are, by design, attention-deflecting clothes is not lost on his designer pal. “[He] doesn’t look like anybody on the Tour right now,” Mashburn says. “In a weird way, it’s almost like normcore for golf.”
Mitchell’s hoping for some linen looks as spring gives way to the heat of summer, while the Mashburn team is eager to ease him—slowly, they promise—into colors and prints. He’s gotten off to a slowish start in 2021, but he’s hopeful that he’ll start playing a little more like the guy who inspired his makeover. “I would like to play more like an Arnold Palmer,” Mitchell says with a laugh. “I haven’t necessarily done that yet, but that would be pretty cool.”