2011 US Open Golf: Where U.S. Open Trophy Ranks Among Biggest Prizes in Sports
This is a big time of the year in sports. Within a one-week period, both the NBA and NHL will have crowned their champions. Additionally we will know the winner of the US Open, which is generally the hardest golf tournament in the world.
Tennis' French Open ended on June 5 and barring weather delays, Wimbledon will conclude on July 3. So in less than a one-month period, we will have seen five of sports greatest championships. Mind you, that's not even counting the British Open, which occurs in mid-July.
The US Open may be the most difficult tournament in golf, but where does its trophy rank when compared to trophies given out for other championships?
Well, that's a difficult question to answer. The tournament may be the most rewarding golf tournament to win. It represents the four most grueling days that golf has every year, and for American golfers it's their national championship.
But the trophy itself isn't particularly noteworthy when compared to other trophies. Sure, it represents a lot and it's a beautiful trophy, but it's not particularly identified with the US Open.
The trophy is called the US Open Trophy. So hearing its name would hopefully be a dead giveaway of anyone is wondering what it represents. But looking at it, how many casual sports fans would know what championship it represents?
The goal here is to identify 10 trophies that are more identifiable than the US Open trophy. Before I start, I need to point a few things out.
One: While there will be international trophies mentioned, they will be from tournaments that are a part of North American sports leagues.
This isn't to diminish other countries' sports leagues in any way. I am just not familiar enough with those leagues to rank their championship trophies.
Two: On a similar note, competitions that pit country vs. country are excluded. Sure, just about all of these will have athletes from different countries battling each other, but they aren't one country vs. another. So, the Olympics, World Cup, Ryder Cup, etc. will not be included here.
Again, the reason isn't to diminish them, but national pride means a lot more to some than it does to others.
Three: The trophy has to be specific to a sport or an event. So, for example, championship rings are not included, as they are given to winners of every team sport.
Four: A lot of sports, particularly individual sports, hand out a lot of trophies. In golf, there is a trophy given out every week. In team sports, the winner of each league receives a trophy just for reaching their final, not to mention MVP awards.
So, the last provision is that the trophy either needs to be a championship trophy for a team sport, or a major trophy for an individual sport. This eliminates the Heisman Trophy, which would easily be a top-two trophy under different circumstances.
Individual accomplishments are nearly impossible to measure against championships. The goal here is to focus on championships (team) or majors (individual).
10. Laurel Wreath
The oldest American marathon is indeed its most prestigious.
Sure, as you can see in the picture, the winner gets a beautiful trophy, but that looks very similar to a lot of trophies earned in individual sports.
The Laurel Wreath is identified with the Boston Marathon.
Unfortunately, the most well-known images to many involve Rosie Ruiz, like the one seen here. She managed to trick everyone into thinking that she had run the entire race and that they just hadn't noticed her at the various checkpoints.
Despite that, this is a well-known prize given to the winner of perhaps the world's most prestigious marathon.
In case you were wondering, the Laurel Wreath was done as a tribute to the Greek traditions of the marathon.
9. Undisputed Heavyweight Championship Belt
There was a time when this would have been much higher on the list.
I guess you could say this is a cheat, as there is no undisputed title belt. It's also something of a cheat as other sports, notably MMA and professional wrestling, also award belts to their champions. Yes, I do know the results in professional wrestling are predetermined.
But there didn't used to be as many governing bodies as there are now. Right now, there are five different governing bodies with three different heavyweight champions.
For the record, I rank the Heavyweight Championship ahead of all others in prestige. It's generally where the sport's greatest, most well-known champions have come from. But even if you disagree, between all the weight classes there is one undisputed champion right now.
There hasn't been an undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis more than 10 years ago.
Before that, it was commonplace. Amongst others, Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, and Jack Dempsey were all undisputed champions.
If people want to know why the sport of boxing is dying, that's something to look at. It's not just the increasing influence of MMA, the fact that there aren't many great American fighters, or that Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather can't come to an agreement to fight.
No, those hurt, but none of the weight classes can generate a true champion. Having one person or one team that everyone goes after helps sports more than many people care to admit.
But I digress. When someone sees a boxing championship belt, they know what it represents.
8. Claret Jug
In the USA, golf is not as popular to mainstream sports fans as the big team sports. So, the criteria of grabbing a casual sports fan, showing him this trophy, and having him know what championship it represents probably doesn't work too well here.
This is especially true for fans in the western United States, as the time difference makes the British Open challenging to watch too closely.
Still, this is golf's most recognizable actual trophy, although we will see golf again later on the list.
It is one trophy passed from winner to winner, and has the name of every champion inscribed on it. The current Claret Jug has been awarded since 1928.
Bobby Jones won the Claret Jug in 1927 at St. Andrews and asked that it be kept at the course. That trophy is still there.
This is something of an odd trophy because while the name doesn't make the championship that it represents too obvious, it is probably more identifiable by name than sight.
7. Commissioner's Trophy
Baseball is probably my favorite sport and this trophy currently resides on the shelf of my favorite team, but I can't justify a higher placement on this list.
It belongs on the list, as just about any North American sports fan can look at this trophy and know exactly what sports champion it goes to.
Why is it ranked this low?
Well, personally, it's not an aesthetically pleasing trophy. It also doesn't have a particularly great name. It would probably be a few spots up on this list if it was named after Major League Baseball's first commissioner, or the man who was the commissioner when this trophy was first awarded.
For the record, this was first awarded in 1967 and the commissioner was William Eckert.
Also, it ranks low because a new one is given out every year. That will not be 100 percent consistent on this list, but the exceptions have pretty valid reasons for them.
I generally prefer trophies that remain the same from year to year.
6. Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy
The first time the trophy seen here was given was 1977. It was renamed the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy in 1984.
Maybe it's because we can all call pictures to mind of some of the most iconic athletes of the last 30 years celebrating with the trophy.
Maybe it's because the top of the trophy is shaped like a basketball (which we have seen once before and will see once again).
Whatever the reason, this trophy is clearly identified with the NBA Championship.
This trophy is here because, unlike baseball, it's named after someone. It's not higher because, unlike others above it, it's a remade trophy every year.
That's a particularly annoying fact here as prior to 1977, the trophy given to the NBA Champions was the Walter A. Brown Trophy, which was the same trophy handed off from year to year.
5. Vince Lombardi Trophy
Again, this trophy looks like a football. Because of that, it has an unfair advantage when it comes to how identifiable it is.
Like with others, it does hurt that this is a different trophy every year, but the positives are strong.
The name of the trophy is iconic because its namesake is iconic. As a matter of fact, Vince Lombardi may be the most iconic person in the history of the sport.
That's particularly remarkable considering he never played a down in the NFL.
The name is just as iconic and just as recognizable as the look. Of the three major American sports leagues that make different trophies annually (MLB, NFL, and NBA), this is the highest-ranking trophy.
4. The Roses
The Kentucky Derby is also known as the Run for the Roses. Every year, the winning horse has a blanket of roses draped over its back. That tradition actually dates back to the 1880s.
This is simply the world's most well-known horse race. While the roses aren't necessarily a reason why, their association with the derby is unmistakable.
The Kentucky Derby is loaded with traditions, like the mint juleps and big hats. But the blanket of roses takes a backseat to none of them.
This one, along with the Laurel Wreath and the next two, may not be a trophy in the classical sense, but it is heavily identified with its championships.
3. Bottle of Milk
Allow me to relay a personal account as to how a “trophy” or award can stand out more than the event itself.
In my entire life, I don't think I have watched 10 combined minutes of the Indy 500. When I was a kid, I never dreamed about winning this, or any, car race. I know it's prestigious for racing and its fans; I have just never been a racing fan.
The same is not true for the US Open. While I have basically given up my professional golf aspirations, when I first started playing, winning the US Open was a dream.
Still, I have always known that the winner of the Indy 500 drinks milk after winning. The US Open dreams have always involved making a birdie putt on the last hole to beat Tiger Woods. They've never included a moment with the trophy.
So while the US Open means a lot more to me than the Indy 500 does, the prizes are almost exactly flipped in terms of prestige.
2. Green Jacket
The Claret Jug is golf's best trophy; the green jacket is the sport's best prize.
Again, that's not to say the Masters is a more prestigious championship than the British Open, or any of the majors. That's all in the eye of the ranker.
But the green jacket is known to just about anyone.
This hasn't always been awarded to the winner. The first Masters was played in 1934 and, with the exception of the World War II years of 1942-1945, it's been played every year since.
Sam Snead's win in 1949 was the first time the winner received a green jacket. Over the last 60-plus years, it's become the greatest tradition at a tournament that is filled with great traditions.
From the green jacket itself, to the ceremony where the last year's champion places the jacket on the present winner, everything about the jacket is special.
1. Stanley Cup
Here's something the Stanley Cup has over all other entries on this list: The tournament and series that it is won in is named after it.
The US Open trophy was named after the tournament. That was not the case with the Stanley Cup.
The NHL's playoffs are not called that; they are called the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The NHL's final series is not called the NHL finals; it is called the Stanley Cup finals.
Additionally, the winners all have their names engraved—not just the winning teams, but the winning members of that team.
Any kid who wants to play hockey dreams of the moment where they get their hands on the cup, or the day that they get the cup.
Any championship, both team and otherwise, is prestigious. Even the trophies that didn't make this list bring great pride to those lucky enough to win them.
But the total package of the Stanley Cup makes it very hard to beat.