Keith Mitchell is not wearing a belt. It’s no accident; Mitchell and his tailor made damn sure of that. He stands shoulders back and legs crossed, with soft blue eyes peering out from underneath an endangered species: the Tour visor. His right hand clutches a peg and ball; his left leans atop a cord grip—another nearly extinct classic. Staring back at him is the par-4 fifth hole at TPC Sawgrass, the home of The Players Championship and the amphitheater for Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida’s hottest day-party. All week, sundresses and brunch hats have been jockeying for position in his peripheral while their boyfriends have been far less subtle: “Cashmere!” “Go Dawgs!” “Get it, Keith!” It’s all white noise to the world’s 47th-ranked player, who, on this Friday, will need to hike his perfectly fitted trousers up if he’s to make the cut and remain in the top 50 to secure a place in next month’s Masters. As he gazes off into the distance with aspirational steez and seemingly effortless self-assuredness, no one—not him, his caddie or anyone in the gallery—knows everything is about to take a hard right turn.
Six-hour rounds aren’t uncommon in the professional-golf universe, but things can still change quickly. One minute, I’m quietly working on 24 hours in the life of one of the Tour’s best-dressed, most under-the-radar players; the next, we’re staring agape at his phone, watching a video of him that has garnered more than 4 million views overnight—and counting. Mitchell’s outfits are an homage to Arnold Palmer and Seve Ballesteros, and as I watch him deal with the fallout of his viral moment while trying to hang on to an Augusta invite, I can’t help but wonder how those greats would have dealt with being Twitter-famous.
But first: those pants. The 31-year-old Mitchell believes there are two ways in which PGA Tour players can differentiate themselves: Play good or look good. In 2020, he ditched traditional apparel sponsorship along with the stretchy, Dri-FIT athletic wear that now dominates the circuit. His look is stitched together at Sid Mashburn, an Atlanta-based menswear store eponymously named for its owner and designer, and consists solely of all-natural fibers.
On Monday of every tournament week, he lays out those pants, polos and, yes, cashmere sweaters for the week ahead. It’s part of an obsessive routine that Mitchell believes in deeply. Early this week, he tracked how long it took to get from the driveway of his rental house across A1A to the palatial Sawgrass clubhouse; how long it took to walk from the locker room to the gym, from the gym to player dining, from player dining to the range, from the range to the first tee, from No. 9 to 10, and back. After this reconnaissance mission, he built in buffers for unforeseen circumstances like traffic and bumping into old friends. (He is a University of Georgia alum, and the Jacksonville area is crawling with Bulldogs.) He then followed that detailed schedule through nine holes of practice on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. By Thursday, Mitchell believed he was ready.
His tournament routine begins three hours before his tee time, no matter when. For his 7:23 a.m. start time on Thursday at The Players, he was up at 4 a.m. He gave himself 30 minutes for a cup of coffee to kick in, then left for the course. He stretched with a physical therapist for 30 minutes before heading to a breakfast of avocado toast. At exactly 50 minutes before his tee time, Mitchell began his warmup. He hit a few putts, worked his way through the bag on the range, hit some pitches and headed to the first tee. If things go well on the course, he does the required media interviews; if things go sideways—four to five times a year, he tells me—he’ll practice after the round. Otherwise, energy conservation takes priority and he’s back to his rental house or hotel room for a light dinner before bedtime. If this all sounds like the fussy machinations of a Type A maniac, you’re right. But the course is one of few places where that version of Mitchell exists.
“My day at the course is the only routine I have, ever,” Mitchell tells me at the expansive back practice range at Sawgrass. “I would like to think that I’m a perfectionist when it comes to the things that I actually care about.” Away from the course, Mitchell describes himself as scatterbrained, playful and unserious, the kind of guy who loses his wallet and keys once a day. A noted prankster, he once was reprimanded by Phil Mickelson for tweeting a picture of Lefty asleep in front of his locker. He conspired with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan to fake a withdrawal from a Wednesday pro-am in which he was paired with the Tour’s head man, just to make Andy Pazder, the Tour’s chief tournaments and competitions officer, scramble for a late replacement.
The perfectionist in Mitchell rears its head when he’s scouring the web for the next addition to his impressive watch collection (his current go-to: a Laurent Ferrier Classic Micro-Rotor with a jade-green dial), dissecting the latest red wine at the restaurants near his home in Sea Island, Georgia, or, most often, in the kitchen. One of the only arguments he can remember having with his wife, Claire, came during a leisurely Sunday breakfast where Mitchell became frustrated with his eggs. “The skillet was too hot and I hadn’t added the salt and pepper at the right time and I just lost it,” he recalls. “She was like, ‘It’s just breakfast. It doesn’t matter.’ I’ve gotten a lot better about it. I finally realized that my livelihood doesn’t depend on what temperature the steaks come out, but it does with how close I hit my 7-iron.”
Mitchell’s grand ambition is to look good and play good. Ahead of his graduation from Georgia in 2014, he went to buy a suit from Sid Mashburn. It was a standard gray-sharkskin affair. (“Nothing special,” he says.) But Mashburn spent extra time with Mitchell, explaining which cuts served which purpose, where the fabrics came from and how the stitching was done. “His attention to detail reminded me of the attention I put into my golf game, and I appreciated that,” Mitchell remembers. “He taught me the value of quality.”
For as long as Mitchell remembers putting on a hat to play, it has been a Tour visor— the classic, almost comically large version that Seve, Azinger, Kite, Singh and so many others popularized in the 1980s and ’90s. But after turning pro, Mitchell signed with Nike, which didn’t make a visor he liked, so he wore a standard hat instead. There’s a running joke in pro-golf circles that Harris English, Hudson Swafford and Russell Henley—all Georgia alums and Sea Island residents—are basically the same person. The regular hat stuck Mitchell in the same algorithm.
After his Nike deal ran out, Mitchell decided to break out. He and the Mashburn team embraced wool knits, pleats and tabs instead of belt loops. He then asked Imperial to make him a proper visor with a French terry sweatband. People took notice. “Keith Mitchell is bringing old-school golf style back,” wrote GQ in a glowing feature. Suddenly, from a sea of five-pocket pants and polyester performance shirts emerged “Cashmere” Keith Mitchell. “It’s funny,” he says when I ask him about his growing fan base. “By wearing the clothes that I like and being authentic, that simply brought me out among the crowd, and not in a very purposeful-marketing way. When you lean into what you care about, that’s the best way to go about it.”
Friday at The Players, Mitchell is clad in trousers with a subtle gray-and-black pattern, a pale-mauve polo and all-white FootJoys to match his gleaming-white visor. The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.” Mitchell is about to learn what Goethe meant, and in the most unfortunate of ways.
Coming into the tournament, Mitchell’s ideal was clear: He was riding on a pair of top fives in the previous month, at Pebble Beach and Riviera. Had a few more putts fallen, he might have won both. He was leading the Tour in total driving—the part of his game that’s never failed him. Since starting work on his short game with Parker McLachlin, aka the “Short Game Chef,” he’d gone from the bottom in strokes gained around the green in 2022 to above Tour average. Put it all together and Mitchell believed he would not only book another ticket to the Masters, but that he would do it by winning the PGA Tour’s flagship event.
Now for the real: TPC Sawgrass is hard as shit, Pete Dye never cared who was playing well, and what goes up must come down. With five holes to play in the second round, Mitchell is sitting on the cut line at 1 over. He’s hit one of 10 fairways, missing all nine to the right. There is a wicked storm blowing in and everyone on the golf course knows they will be finishing on Saturday morning. Then there is the one constant from Arnie’s era to Seve’s time to the modern PGA Tour: When not met, high expectations are known to cause irrational anger and wild outbursts.
With his real and ideal at odds, Mitchell steps up to the 471-yard par-4 fifth hole believing he needs to par his final five holes to see the weekend and an invitation to Augusta. After a few waggles and a peek at the water down the right, he lets it rip. The ball comes off screaming at 179 miles per hour and, almost instantly, Mitchell tomahawk-slams his driver into the ground at roughly the same speed. The ball starts right and is cutting—hard. Mitchell’s caddie, John Limanti, backpedals across the tee box like Darrelle Revis in zone coverage to get a look at its final resting place. As the ball peels toward the water, a sharp noise pierces through the pines: the horn officially suspending play for the day. The splash follows milliseconds later.
Mitchell and I have become friendly during our time together. He’s given me a goofy nickname (which I will not repeat here). But after a silent ride back to the clubhouse, he doesn’t look at me. Or anyone else. Visor in hand, he trudges back to his courtesy car. The routine has been broken. There will be no post-round media or emergency range session. “My expectations got too high,” Mitchell will tell me in the days that follow. “They did not match what was happening on the golf course, hence the additional emotion.”
Overnight, video of Mitchell’s additional emotion surfaces and “Block Smash Horn Splash” becomes the talk of the tournament. Saturday breaks with stories on multiple media outlets, millions of views and, eventually, a talk with tournament officials about media rights and who is allowed to post what. At 7 a.m. Saturday, I meet Mitchell on the fifth tee. He shakes his head at me as if to say, “What the hell just happened?” and gives me a sarcastic thumbs-up. Resplendent in a nearly Masters-green sweater, he then goes stone-faced into tournament mode. Ponte Vedra’s party has yet to begin. Birds chirping replaces Dawgs barking. He drops in the first cut just past the forward tee and laces a dew-covered 3-wood 275 yards down the center. He then nearly holes a wedge from 131 and taps in for bogey. He manages even par the rest of the way and waits in the clubhouse to see if he will make the weekend. When a late bogey pushes the cut line to 2 over, Mitchell grabs his visor and checks his watch. It will take him six minutes to get to the range.