The other day, I saw an image of Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper, one of the best players in Major League Baseball, and he looked as if he is wearing enough eyeblack to look invisible in a dark alley.

Ditto a couple of players for the Vanderbilt Commodores in the College World Series. The spaces under each of their eyes were so darkened by eyeblack that you could have been convinced a maniac was loose in the locker room with a huge mascara pencil.

This got me to thinking about a couple of burning questions: Does eyeblack really work, or is it worn by tough guys to look tougher? And if it does work why do golfers not wear it?

(I know, there are bigger questions out there in the world, but thinking about these things entertains and intrigues me).

The advantage of wearing eyeblack in outdoor settings, say those who subscribe to it, is that it absorbs light and helps reduce glare, thus making fly balls and oncoming defensive ends easier to see. It is not new. There are photos confirming that baseball icon Babe Ruth wore eyeblack of some sort (ashes from a fireplace?). Some professional football and baseball players feel naked without it, and, of course, once it became a trend at the top levels of those sports, it trickled down to college and high school players. Even Little Leaguers. Little Joey looks awesome with his eyeblack.

Then it became a form of messaging. Some players wear their team’s logo on their eyeblack, and others have used the black strips to share religious messages or to celebrate their hometown or college. To no one’s surprise, that practice got out of hand, and pro and college rules now limit eyeblack expressions.

Eyeblack typically is applied these days with a grease stick or as an adhesive strip. 

Studies have concluded that there is no significant proof that eyeblack reduces glare, but, if players have concluded that it provides even a psychological benefit (or maybe that they look cooler in photographs), they’re likely to put it on after their uniforms.

Except when they play in the rain or on very cloudy days, golfers can be bothered significantly by the sun. On many courses, it seems that every tee shot is directly into the sun, even though players are relatively sure that the Earth continues to revolve as they move from 1 to 18. Bright sun can be a particular issue when players are trying to determine into which part of the woods the tee shot landed. Poor vision equals lost balls equal expensive rounds.

So, if eyeblack reduces glare – or if some people think it does, why hasn’t it found its way into widespread use in golf? The next professional golfer – or serious amateur – I see wearing eyeblack will be the first.

The relatively genteel nature of golf, with its excessively aristocratic past and tradition-laden atmosphere, probably would give those who might want to venture into the eyeblack arena second thoughts. Hard to imagine Jack Nicklaus or Fred Couples or Jordan Spieth wearing eyeblack. Bryson DeChambeau? Hmmm, maybe, particularly if he could prove some mathematical benefit from having black strips under his eyes.

Otherwise, it’s a golf frontier waiting to be breached.

Mike Hembree

Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.