How Jack Wilson built a strong personal brand by bucking convention in golf
There’s never been a professional golfer who looks, or sounds, quite like Jack Wilson. With dreadlocks and a full beard, he’s been the antithesis of what comes to mind for most people when they think of a sport commonly associated with older people and the upper class.
Jack is as aware as anyone that he doesn’t necessarily fit neatly in the culture of his chosen sport, but he doesn’t see that as a bad thing. In fact his look (which recently changed when he shaved off his locks for charity) is part of a conscious decision to buck convention and change perceptions, and in doing so build his profile and marketability off the golf course.
Jack wasn’t the most likely candidate to become a professional golfer. Growing up in country Victoria, all Jack’s friends played cricket or football, and Jack had to use second hand gear to play what is one of the more expensive sports to participate in. But he persisted, and rose to prominence when he became the first PGA trainee to win an Australasian Tour Event, before placing third at the Australian PGA Championship.
It was soon after that that Jack realised the importance of also developing a strong personal brand off the golf course.
“If I'm going to build a business that has longevity then there's other arms to this that I can add,” he told PickStar's Off-Field Podcast.
“That (thought) led to the decision to get dreadlocks, and that was a decision of rebellion at the time as well.
“I'd walk into a law firm, and the guy that's serving me would have a sleeve of tattoos and a beard. So if that was a stereotypical industry that was meant to look a certain way, then why wasn't golf (also) evolving, and why do I have to tow the line?
“So (I decided to) lead from the front, and I had an opportunity to do that.
“After the first few months out playing events with dreadlocks and the amount of noise it created, that confirmed the fact that the decision I made was the right decision.”
It was a highly controversial decision in a conservative sport, and one that attracted plenty of criticism.
“I'd been told that… to grow my hair out and look different was a bad move… (that I should) make sure I had an appearance that was appealing to a larger group of corporate sponsors. “(But) that hadn't bared any fruit at all doing it that way, so I stuck to my guns. And it's worked out quite well. In a way, I've grown a lot as a person, and I've copped a fair bit of flack through that for challenging the way things are because that's the way they've always been. But it's a message that has provided a lot of opportunities as well.”
Jack took the image further when he decided to make his best friend his caddy, who Jack describes as looking like the homeless caddy out of Happy Gilmore.
“We could go see one of the best places in the world (together), but it was also going to add to my brand and create something that will help get a message across that's bigger than just me and would have an impact in the sport. And the snowball effect that that's had in the last couple of years has been just another confirmation that it's the right way to go about things I think.”
Jack says he is seeing a culture shift in the sport that is in part a result of his different approach.
“It's certainly interesting to see the kids that we've reached in the way of young golfers that come and follow us around," he said.
“It shows there's a bit of life in the sport that's given kids a hope that they can look a certain way.”
Building a unique look and personal brand has also lead to effective brand partnerships for Jack, including one with golf apparel brand Birds of Condor. Jack says it was important for him to partner with a company that really shared his own values.
“There were other options on the table there, but to go with Birds, a small local Byron Bay company that were challenging the status quo, fit so perfectly with what my brand is … that was the perfect decision.”
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