When I was 13 years old I played in a Junior Golf Tournament at The Wentworth Club in England, host of the BMW PGA Championships and home course to such pros as Retief Goosen, Nick Faldo, and Bernard Gallagher.
I walked into the clubhouse after the round and the first thing I saw was the Claret Jug, sitting in a display case for all to see. It had been there because another Wentworth member (some guy named Ernie Els) had won the Open the year before, and wished for the trophy to be kept in the clubhouse.
But as I stared at the legendary Claret Jug, the sight staring back at me wasn’t as majestic as I thought it would be.
The trophy isn’t ugly, but it isn’t really that beautiful a piece of craftsmanship either. It isn’t notably big or small, shiny or unique.
If the U.S. Open is Angelena Jolie and the Masters is Hiedi Klum, the Claret Jug is the Uma Thurman of trophies. Pretty, but nothing worth writing home about (the PGA can be Rosie O’Donnell or something, someone nobody cares about).
When Mackay Cunningham and Company of Edinburgh was entrusted with the task of creating a trophy back in 1873, it cost them a grand total of £30 (about $500 today, which makes it the cheapest of all the major trophies).
I was truly amazed. The Claret Jug is the perfect trophy for the British Open simply because it, like the tournament itself, seemingly flatters to deceive in almost every respect compared to golf’s other top prizes.
The courses aren’t as manicured. The field isn’t as strong. The weather isn’t as pleasant, (the trophy isn’t as big) yet all those flaws disappeared with one glance at the 131 names on the bottom of the trophy, and the reason why Golf’s third major is perhaps the most respected suddenly reveals itself.
All the games greats: Woods, Els, Daly, Faldo, Ballesteros, Norman, Watson, Trevino, Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Hogan, Snead, Jones, and Hagen have all won the Open Championship.
These men are all very different champions who come from various circumstances and possess very different characters, yet are all bonded together by two words: Open Champion.
Seeing your name etched on the Claret Jug is the golfer’s equivalent to a writer winning the Pulitzer Prize, an academic winning the Nobel Prize, or this guy appearing on Oprah .
It is, when all is said and done, the opportunity for the very good golfers of today to write their names as legends in the history books of tomorrow.
That’s the reason why we love the British open, we get to see pros struggle to stay warm and hack their way out of knee high rough. When the sun peaks its head out of the clouds, it doesn’t revel the lush green fairways of Augusta National or the treacherous U.S. Open greens.
We get to see the best golfers in the world battle all the imperfections of an unfair game. Most professionals never succeed in that battle and retire with a respectable career left intact. But others do, and those are usually the names we remember.