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Johnson Wagner of the U.S smiles as he holds the trophy after winning the final round of the Sony Open golf tournament at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii January 15, 2012. (Hugh Gentry/Reuters/Hugh Gentry/Reuters)
Johnson Wagner of the U.S smiles as he holds the trophy after winning the final round of the Sony Open golf tournament at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii January 15, 2012. (Hugh Gentry/Reuters/Hugh Gentry/Reuters)

BEVERLEY SMITH

In praise of the sporting moustache Add to ...

Let us all praise moustaches.

Moustaches show up in the most unlikely places, most recently on the upper lip of golfer Johnson Wagner, who won only his third PGA event in 140 starts in the Sony Open last weekend in Hawaii.

As Wagner swept around the picturesque course, the gallery of spectators began to call him “Magnum PI.” Wagner was puzzled. At age 31, he didn’t know the television show. When he discovered Tom Selleck, he was pleased.

Perhaps he’s starting a trend. Was it any wonder that a player called Sean O’Hair finished close on his heels in Hawaii?

To say that wearing moustaches in golf is uncommon is an understatement. Last November, the PGA of Canada encouraged its 3,800 members to take part in a moustache-growing contest, honouring Movember, raising money for charity. Only nine participated.

Arnold Palmer once chastised David Duval for wearing a goatee, until he realized he was standing in front of a gallery of Open champion golfers from the 1800s – sporting all manner of moustaches.

Wagner said he grew the moustache in the off-season, making a deal with himself in December to keep it for the year, with an eye on qualifying for the Masters. A friend, figuring Wagner was participating in Movember, said that since it was December, it was maybe time to shave it off.

“Look, this is not a one-month moustache,” Wagner told him. “This is probably a 10-year moustache, so it’s going to be around for a while.”

Wagner is not totally alone in the PGA. John Daly tried to grow a thin, blond moustache during the 1990s. Jim Furyk’s caddie, Mike “Fluff” Cowan got his nickname for obvious reasons, with his big white moustache on the course. Corey Pavin wore a modest one when he won the 1995 U.S. Open. Craig (the Walrus) Sadler has always worn facial hair, although now it’s a strange mixture of red and white. Scottish golfer Sam Torrance is known for his hairy follicles.

There seems to be something about a moustache that drives athletes to excel. At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Croatian men’s water polo team grew moustaches in honour of their coach.

In the early 1970s, Major League Baseball Players rarely wore moustaches. But Oakland Athletics owner Charley Finley decided to hold a moustache-growing contest on his team. It seemed like an affront, however, when they played the Cincinnati Reds, whose team forbade facial hair.

Swimmer Mark Spitz wore a moustache when he won seven Olympic gold medals, although swimmers usually shave off all facial hair to become as streamlined as possible in the water. Spitz said the moustache created a pocket of air that allowed him to breathe.

Perhaps Johnson will be remembered more for his moustache than his play last week. But with $990,000 (U.S.) in his pocket, there’s no chance he’s shaving that moustache now.

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