HOYLAKE, England – The green jacket gave Mike Weir a thrill he won’t forget.
The Masters champion wore his coveted prize onto the ice for a Stanley Cup playoff game in Toronto, with the Maple Leafs tapping their sticks and the crowd producing a cheer louder than any he heard at Augusta National. Canada loves its golf, and the green jacket is even more meaningful to a country that forgets spring exists until seeing the azaleas and dogwoods on TV each April.
The claret jug gave Padraig Harrington a moment that made him laugh.
The British Open champion had his coveted prize with him on a trip to San Francisco. Harrington got into a cab with a driver who loved the sport so much he was wearing a golf glove. The jug was in its steel case, which was leaking whiskey that had not been drained. The driver asked what was in the case, and Harrington jokingly told him it was a human organ. Only after the Irishman got out of the cab did he have his two friends tell the cabbie it was the claret jug.
The newest and the oldest of golf’s major championships offer two distinct prizes, both recognizable to any golf fan in any part of the world.
Which evokes more emotion?
“I’d love to find out,” said Graeme McDowell, who to date can speak only for the U.S. Open trophy.
The claret jug is all about history.
Tom Kidd was the first British Open champion to be presented a claret jug in 1873. The original was swapped out by a replica starting in 1928, and that’s the 86-year-old trophy that Phil Mickelson had to return when he arrived at Hoylake on Monday.
“It was fun to see the faces of the people that have such respect and reverence for the game of golf and this championship, and what it means to be able to take a picture with it or drink a sip out of it,” Mickelson said.
The green jacket is more about dignity.
Sam Snead was the first Masters champion to be presented a green jacket in 1949. Every winner gets his own green jacket – Jack Nicklaus, of all people, had to wait the longest to get fitted for one — and the winner gets to keep it for a year before it goes in his locker at the club.
“I only went one place in it and that was to New York for interviews,” Bubba Watson said a week before he won the Masters a second time. He did a media tour in the Big Apple the day after his 2012 victory, walking through the streets of Manhattan in golf’s most famous piece of clothing.
“People were so in awe of it,” he said. “They all wanted to take a picture. Anyone who knows anything about sports knows about the green jacket. It’s pretty amazing the reception you get.”
Two prizes could not be any more different. Winners of each wouldn’t trade the trophy for the other one – unless they can have both.
“Let’s look at it for what it is,” British Open champion Stewart Cink said. “One is a garment. One is a device for drinking stuff. If you’re looking at it for what it is, and not what it means, you can have way more fun with a claret jug than a green jacket.”
Zach Johnson wouldn’t trade the time he went to a charity function at home wearing his green jacket.
“If there’s a 40 Regular in the house, they want to put it on,” he said. “They want to touch it. They want to feel it. They want to put it on.”
Which one would he rather have for a year?
“Go ask Tiger,” Johnson said.
Tiger Woods, the only active player to win all four majors, wasn’t much help. He fell asleep in his green jacket the night after he won the 1997 Masters, but he was rarely (if ever) seen publicly in the jacket or carrying the jug.
Mickelson has won five majors, three of them at the Masters. One of the most famous post-victory photos of Mickelson was him wearing the green jacket in the drive-thru lane at Krispy Kreme in Augusta.
“Well, the Krispy Kreme was pre-arthritis, OK? So let’s keep that in mind,” Mickelson said.
He felt the claret jug brought out more emotion because everyone could share in it – holding it, posing with it, drinking from it.
“There’s really not much you’re going to do with the jacket, other than pull on the lapels,” he said.
There’s something about the green jacket that seems to make the champions nervous. Augusta National sends the jacket home with guidelines (more like a “Don’t Do” list), such as avoiding commercial appearances or wearing it with appropriate attire (Note to Zach Johnson: No blue jeans, please).
Watson got home from New York and the jacket stayed in his closet the rest of the year. Angel Cabrera said it never left his house in Argentina. Trevor Immelman took it to Japan for an exhibition with 16-year-old Ryo Ishikawa.
“If it happens again, I’ll do a little more with it,” Immelman said. “I’ve such respect for the place and the history that I didn’t want to parade it around everywhere.”
Then again, Darren Clarke had such respect for the claret jug that he says he never poured a drink from it. Mickelson sure did, but only the “good stuff,” which included 1990 Romanee Conti, valued in the neighborhood of $20,000 a bottle.
Most players can agree on at least one point.
“Of the four majors,” McDowell said, “I’d say the jug has the most stories to tell.”