In the era of prodigious purses and savvy strategic thinking, pro golfers are making it their business to be in business outside of their sport, while show-biz stalwarts and superstar athletes like Steph Curry, Peyton Manning and Andy Roddick are discovering that the smart money is in golf itself. In our Golf & Business package (which you can also find in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of GOLF Magazine), we’ll go inside their wallets.
A sales guy, an actor and an NFL linebacker enter into a business deal. Sound like a joke? These days, it’s not any more unlikely than a surfer logo inspiring golfers to wear performance polos on the course. It’s the essence of Johnnie-O, the brand that has found the magic formula of laid-back-meets-preppy, golfer-meets-surfer, East-Coast-meets-West-Coast. Styles that don’t traditionally see eye to eye work in harmony at Johnnie-O.
It’s the same outside-the-box approach founder John O’Donnell used at the genesis of the now multimillion-dollar business. When looking for investors back in the early 2000s, he was able to recruit his younger brother, actor Chris O’Donnell, as well as Chicago Bears All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher. An unconventional tandem? That’s Johnnie-O.
“Back in the early days of the company, I was introduced to Brian through a common friend,” says John, who grew up a Bears fan in Winnetka, Ill. “He loved what we were doing and loved the brand and wanted to be a part of it. Of course, Chris has been involved from the beginning. It’s always great to have celebrities who are high-visibility wearing our product, but that can only get you so far. Unless the product is awesome, there’s only so much they can help with.”
With golf as the glue that originally bound the trio, their partnership found instant awesome. All three hold single-digit handicaps, with John, who played one year as a walk-on at UCLA, being the best of the bunch.
Knowing the game while staying true to his target style has been key for John O’Donnell, whose polo shirts are the perfect middle ground between buttoned-up country club and hang-loose surfer. The brand has expanded its product line to shorts, pants, hoodies and footwear, with PGA Tour pros and brand reps Kevin Streelman, Nate Lashley and Aaron Baddeley sporting Johnnie-O gear on course as well as the 19th hole.