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NYTimes
New York Times
8 Apr 2023


NextImg:Signed, Sealed and Delivered: the Masters Prize Besides a Green Jacket

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Last year, in the months after he won the Masters Tournament for the first time, Scottie Scheffler heard a parcel was coming his way from Georgia.

“I didn’t know exactly what it would be,” Scheffler recalled over the winter. “They have the trophy in the clubhouse, but it’s, like, really big.”

That trophy, made of about 900 pieces of sterling silver and weighing at least 100 pounds, did not leave Augusta National Golf Club. A smaller, if similarly exacting, sterling silver trophy did.

Engraved in Britain, packaged in a felt-lined box befitting a head of state, and so painstakingly personalized that it includes the signatures of every player in that year’s Masters field, the trophy featuring Augusta National’s clubhouse is far less renowned than the green jacket the winner earns. But because players traditionally take their blazers away from Augusta National only during the years in which they are reigning winners, the trophy is the dazzling centerpiece that a Masters champion actually gets to keep.

“It’s a real talking point at the house, I must say, because people are shocked to realize there is a trophy,” said Adam Scott, who won the tournament in 2013. “And then you get to have a good look at it and the detail in it is fantastic — the clubhouse and then things like the signatures.”

This year’s competition, three decades after Bernhard Langer became the first winner to receive a replica trophy, is scheduled to conclude Sunday, weather permitting. The process of preparing one prize, though, has already begun: When players arrived for the tournament, organizers collected the signatures that will wind up on the trophy.

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Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, right, with the 2022 winner Scottie Scheffler. The trophy that remains on club grounds weighs at least 100 pounds.

That Augusta National awards a trophy is not unique in golf, a predominantly individual sport with archives filled of photographs of champions rejoicing with their hardware. At last summer’s British Open, Cameron Smith estimated that two cans of beer would fill the claret jug he had earned and had his name engraved on minutes after the tournament’s end.

But the claret jug is a symbol of the Open, much as the Wanamaker Trophy is an emblem of the P.G.A. Championship and the U.S. Open Championship Trophy remains the fixture it has been in the game since 1895. At the Masters, though, the trophy is essentially an afterthought to the green jacket — however ironically, given the winner’s limited time with the sartorial prize.

“As a kid and as an adult, you focus on one thing, and that’s the green jacket,” said Bubba Watson, who won at Augusta in 2012 and 2014. “You don’t know about the other stuff that comes with it. You don’t think about the trophy. You don’t think about the gold coin. You don’t think about privileges of being able to play there. As a kid, as a 10-year-old, as a 12-year-old when I was dreaming about making putts, it was all about the green jacket.”

Phil Mickelson, who recorded the first of his three Masters victories in 2004, said he had “figured” there was a trophy for the victor but knew little about it before he started receiving the clubhouse reproductions, which he concluded neatly captured the tournament’s heritage.

“It brings about feelings of Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts and them creating this event and creating this special club, so it actually has a lot of very subtle undertones to it,” Mickelson said.

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In addition to money — last year’s purse was $15 million — Augusta National offers players a range of prizes for assorted feats. In 2022, Rory McIlroy received a silver medal and a sterling silver tray for his runner-up finish and a pair of crystal highball glasses for making an eagle; Sungjae Im got a crystal vase for shooting the first round’s lowest score; and Stewart Cink earned a crystal bowl for a hole in one at No. 16.

“I have a lot of goblets from Augusta,” Mickelson said, referring to the prize the club used to present for eagles. (He also copped to having a bathrobe “that I wear quite often” from a long-ago stay in the Crow’s Nest, an apartment in the clubhouse’s attic that is available for amateur golfers.)

But the trophy, because of its scarcity and comparably low profile, is quite often a novelty. Watson recalled his first thought was “a lot of silver.”

“When you open that up and you see the trophy, it hits you,” said Patrick Reed, the 2018 winner. “And then it becomes, ‘Where do I put it where everyone can see it but also everyone doesn’t touch it?’”

It is a relatively recent conundrum since, by the standards of the mystique-laden Masters, an event first played in 1934, the replica trophy is a relatively new tradition. Organizers have mailed printed invitations from the start, a ritual that continues today. The private dinner for past champions began in 1952, and the 11th, 12th and 13th holes picked up the Amen Corner moniker from Sports Illustrated in 1958.

In between the dinner’s beginning and the corner’s christening, in 1955, Augusta National began presenting winners with silver cigarette boxes engraved with the autographs of players. Six years later, the club debuted the permanent trophy that stuns players for its enormity: a striking silver reproduction of the clubhouse, with its features rendered in such vivid detail that there are 24 louvers per shutter. An engraver added the names of the champions and runners-up to the base’s bands each year, but winners themselves received a bas-relief replica and the cigarette box.

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“Not all of them are legible, of course, and some you have to guess at, but it is a nice touch,” Adam Scott, the 2013 winner, said of the player signatures on the trophy.

In 1993, though, Augusta National embraced the idea of a replica trophy and abandoned the cigarette boxes and bas-reliefs. Tournament organizers decided that the replica trophy would look much like the one on display in the clubhouse. Reflecting the cigarette box tradition, though, they also decided its base would include the signatures of the field. Organizers collect the signatures when players arrive for the tournament.

“You’re at Augusta, so you always make sure you do a nice signature, and I’m sure if it wasn’t nice, they’d probably have you redo it,” Dustin Johnson, the 2020 winner, said with a laugh. If only, Scott suggested: “Not all of them are legible, of course, and some you have to guess at, but it is a nice touch.”

Mickelson has his Masters trophies, along with the prizes from other major tournaments, together. Watson has installed his first trophy at his office, and his second is at the University of Georgia, his alma mater. When Scott is away from his Australia home, his parents usually keep his. Reed had his in a living room before moving it to an office.

“That thing shines like no other,” he said. “It’s a reminder of all the hard work, how it’s paid off. But it’s also a reminder that you want that feeling again, so I actually use it as motivation to try to practice harder and try to get back to that point.”

And it turns out that people do not try to touch it. He sometimes does, though.

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Phil Mickelson, a three-time winner, said he felt the clubhouse reproductions captured the heritage of the tournament.