Golf fashion icon John Ashworth got his start as a caddie
Southern California’s John Ashworth was the founder of one of the most iconic fashion brands in golf, one that bears his name – Ashworth.
Today, he heads up the successful golf lifestyle brand Linksoul.
Ashworth’s path in golf fashion may never have come to be if it weren’t for the one season he spent working on the PGA Tour as a caddie for childhood friend Mark Wiebe in 1984.
“Mark and I had grown up together,” Ashworth told TCN in a recent ‘Under the Strap’ podcast. “We played junior golf together since we were 10 years old. We go way back with junior golf and high school golf. We kinda split up when we went to college. I think he was two years ahead of me in high school. He’s a year and a half older. He went off to San Jose State and I ended up going to Arizona. He turned pro. He was pretty much better than I was the whole time. He was set on being a Tour pro. When he got out of college — back then you could go to Tour school twice a year — in three years, he tried twice a year, so six times and he didn’t make it, but he was really close. He’d play in mini tours and dominate but couldn’t quite get his card.”
One day when the two friends were chatting, Wiebe asked the then 24-year-old Ashworth if he’d be interested in coming out to caddie for him on the mini-tours and in Q-school, ultimately trying to make it out on the PGA Tour.
“I was like, ‘Shit. That sounds like fun,’” Ashworth said. “He goes, ‘I’ll pay you $250 a week and 5 percent of whatever I win and if I win, 10 percent,’ – the whole deal, you know? So, I was like, ‘OK. I’m in.’
“Sort of off we went. We did the whole sectionals, regionals, made it to the finals. It was at a TPC course in Florida and ended up getting a card. It was a grind as you well know – six rounds of Q-School and your whole year depends on it. It was a massive grind and I remember it like it was yesterday.”
Ashworth’s caddie gig lasted just one season – his choice – and amounted to about a dozen PGA Tour events with Wiebe making a handful of cuts and a trip back to Q-school.
But that was far from the end of Ashworth’s career in golf… or Wiebe’s, as he would twice on the PGA Tour and five times on the PGA Tour Champions, including a major.
“I was out there for pretty much a year,” Ashworth said. “He had a tough time through, to be honest with you. His number wasn’t that great. He had to go back and do it all over again. But I had enough. I only wanted to do it for a year or two. Back then it wasn’t such a lucrative deal. Not that it is now, but it’s way better than it used to be. I think his winnings for the year were like $20,000. I was sleeping in my car a lot of times.”
That’s where Ashworth took an opportunity with one of Wiebe’s sponsors, Gerry Montiel (who would ultimately become co-founder of the Ashworth brand).
“Gerry and I became friends,” Ashworth said. “Gerry would come to tournaments. He was starting a new business in Denver and he asked me to come work for him. I told him, ‘No, I’m going to go figure out what to do and I don’t really want to be a lifetime caddie.’
“He wanted me to come work for his retail sporting goods store – a high-end sporting goods store,” Ashworth continued. “I was like his first hire and I became a buyer and a merchandiser. I learned a lot through that job. Unfortunately for him, the economy in 1985 was really bad. He had to close up shop and he said, we’ll figure something else out. Then he asked me, ‘what would you do if you could start a business?’ I said, ‘Well, shoot. I think there’s a real opening for decent-looking golf clothes. They were all so bad at the time. At least for me and guys like me – mid-to-late 20s, early 30s – everything was just stuck into this one weird look.”
That’s where Ashworth apparel was born.
Ashworth credits his connections from his caddying stint for getting the new brand off the ground, which would eventually explode after Fred Couples won the 1992 Masters.
“Oh my God,” he said. “It never would have happened [without the Tour connections]. It would have never happened otherwise. I knew Fred [Couples] a little bit from college days. But being out there and seeing everybody, for sure solidified that if we could get two guys to understand what we were trying to do, it would be John Cook and Fred. It was kinda less is more. I basically went and talked to both of them and said, ‘hey, look – this is what we’re trying to do. Do you guys want to be part of this company? It would be great to have you.’ They were like, ‘Yeah. This is great. Let’s do it.’
“It really helped being out there and just getting the whole feel for the country and what people were into and how different it was in certain places. But, you know, golf is such a common language… we certainly had our look, but it translated to anywhere even internationally.”
Though Ashworth isn’t involved with the company today, he’s keeping things fresh and California cool with Linksoul.
Click on the player below to listen to our full podcast with John Ashworth: