After being bullied at school for his golf attire, Aussie pro Jack Wilson is on a mission to break the game’s archaic image for good.
I HAVE a vision. It’s late afternoon on Sunday at this year’s Australian Open and I’m strolling down the 18th fairway at Royal Sydney Golf Club with Adam Scott by my side, clean cut and immaculately dressed as he always is. I can see the crowd staring at me and chuckling. As the wind picks up my dreadlocks take flight and my beard starts flapping uncontrollably. I can see the horrified look on Royal Sydney members’ faces – and I know what they’re thinking, How on earth did he get through the front gate looking like that, let alone on our golf course? I bite my hairy top lip and refrain from shouting out, “Get used to it!” Time will take care of that, because there will be plenty more golfers who look like me in the coming years. This is Golf 2.0: relaxed, unpretentious and, most importantly, fun for everyone.
I’VE decided I’m running with the dreadlocks and will grow my beard out. Call me Australia’s answer to European Tour cult hero Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston – but with dreads thrown in. I was thinking about it long and hard the other day, but I couldn’t come up with another professional golfer sporting dreadlocks on tour. I’m sure the commentators will have a bit of fun with me if I can get myself on television during the Aussie summer of golf.
SO WHY the shaggy look? It’s simple. People flick on their TVs and don’t understand golf. The sport’s not attractive and there are very few entertainers that capture the full imagination of the general public. Characters like Beef Johnston with his bushy beard, and Rickie Fowler with his bright, orange shirts and high-top shoes … these are guys who understand the importance of making golf more appealing to a wider demographic. Professional golfers are entertainers; it’s what we do to earn a living. We’ve got to sell the game to continue earning that living, particularly to the next generation of players. It may be unfortunate for some but the reality is this: the next generation of golfers don’t want to mix with clean-cut, old men in plaid trousers and long socks with a reluctance to change.
THERE’S another, more personal reason behind my relaxed look: As a child I got bullied in school because golf had that old-man stigma – chequered jumpers, high socks, shirts tucked in. But I’ve got to a point where I don’t think it should be like that anymore and I’ve made the decision to dress and present myself how I want to. Some sponsors may or may not agree, but I’m OK with that.
I’VE wanted dreadlocks since I was young, but I put it off because I felt I needed to look respectable to fit in with golf’s clean-cut image. But I’m not going to do it anymore and hopefully kids see me and think, Hey, golf looks really fun. I might give it a go. We see tattoos and piercings in other sports and other jobs all around the world, so why should golf be any different?
I LOVE giving back to the game that has already given me so much. It’s why I’m making the most of my spare time in rehabilitation, recovering from wrist surgery. Through my membership with the PGA of Australia and association with the Victorian Institute of Sport, I’ve been taking golf to the masses, running special come-and-try days in schools and shopping centres. Being a country boy myself, teaching golf at the grass roots level is something I’m very passionate about, so it’s been great to get out to regional areas representing the VIS Be Fit. Be Well program, educating kids on the importance of physical activity through golf.
WITHOUT our kids we’re not going to have a sport to play and therefore I’m not going to have a job. Be Fit. Be Well allows golfers like me to get out and speak with schools and talk about exercise, share how important physical activity is for me personally and spread awareness on what golf can offer in that regard.
SHOPPING centre visits are great. They allow me to introduce people to the sport through blow-up hitting bays, the use of bigger, colourful clubheads and a range of fun activities. It’s how golf needs to be sold. In a lot of cases, after spending five minutes with people I see huge improvement and most importantly, how much fun they’re having playing golf. There’s something really satisfying knowing you may have just got someone hooked on the sport when they couldn’t be further from a golf course.
I’VE found that getting kids into golf is a great way to get the parents involved, too. Sometimes, I think it all becomes a bit too hard but if we’re any chance of growing the game then activations like these visits to schools and shopping centres are certainly a good start and hopefully other PGA professionals can get the ball rolling in their respective communities.
REMAINING actively involved with the sport while being out injured has helped me get through the disappointment of not playing and actually made me hungrier than I’ve ever been to get back out on tour and win. I’ve grown a real appreciation for playing golf for a living. I now understand how lucky I am to have lived that dream already and hopefully keep living it. I’ve never been this motivated heading into a summer of golf. If all goes to plan, hopefully my bold, new look is just a sideshow to a big few weeks on the leaderboard.
Name: Jack Wilson
Home Club: Peninsula Kingswood Country Golf Club
Career Highlights: 2012 & 2013 PGA Trainee of the Year, 2013 WA Goldfields PGA Champion, Finished 3rd at 2013 Australian PGA Championship
Philosophy on golf: “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”