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Van Cynical Mailbag: The U.S. Open Trophy Is a Rock Star on the Road

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OAKMONT, Pa.—Forget Waldo. Where’s the United States Open trophy?

It’s on the move, that’s where. And it may be coming to a golf course near you soon.

The U.S. Open trophy is getting the full rock star treatment. It is in the middle of a national tour and it’s being chauffeured around the country by a girl named Crystal driving a Lexus. Is it too late for me to call shotgun? Yeah, probably.

Seriously, I am not making this up. The venerable United States Golf Association is jumping feet-first into the 21st century here with social media marketing guns ablazing, so to speak, and is sending its championship trophy on a promotional blitz that will conclude when the trophy arrives in the Seattle area a week before the Open tees off at Chambers Bay.

The tour is a great idea and I say that after spending a couple of hours up close and personal with the U.S. Open trophy at the first stop on the trophy’s tour, Oakmont Country Club, which happens to be the site of next year’s U.S. Open.

Technically, it may have been the second stop. The trophy visited some New York media outlets before coming to Pittsburgh, including “Fox and Friends” and Sports Illustrated its own illustrious self.

This is a way to get the trophy out to the masses and let them mingle, gawk and selfie it up. It’s a nod to hockey’s coveted Stanley Cup, which players on the winning team take turns hosting for a week and probably doing unspeakable things with, and to the Olympic torch run, which draws awed spectators to the route as torch bearers run past with it.

Photo:

Martin Kaymer raised the U.S. Open trophy last year.

“We took it around the state in North Carolina last year before Pinehurst and saw that people loved taking pictures with the trophy,” said Janeen Driscoll, the USGA’s communications director. “We thought we had a unique opportunity to let people engage with the trophy, take photos and embrace the Open.”

Before the Oakmont stop, trophy handlers took it to Mount Washington, the scenic overlook that looms over downtown Pittsburgh’s skyline and rivers, for a photo shoot. Driscoll said several fans immediately recognized it, came over and asked to pose for pictures with it. The USGA folks were happy to oblige. I asked Driscoll who was to blame for the tour idea and she said it was a team effort.

“Well, it just made sense with the Open being in the Northwest this year for the first time,” said USGA historian Michael Trostel. “The first Open was at Newport in the Northeast and a cross-country trip from where it started to where it’s going seemed like a natural American thing to do. I know the first time I saw the trophy, you go, Wow, it’s kind of an aha moment. You just want to study it, look at all the names, absorb the history and tack a picture.”

The U.S. Open trophy—it doesn’t have a name, by the way, just U.S. Open trophy—has a busy schedule lined up. It attended the Reds-Pirates baseball game at PNC Park on Tuesday, Cinco de Mayo day. (Hey, I wonder if it drank beer out of itself during the game? I would if I was a trophy.)

While in Pittsburgh, the trophy was on display at a couple of public courses—the Bob O’Connor Golf Course (formerly known as Schenley Park), Pittsburgh National and Cranberry Highlands—in addition to Oakmont.

From there, it’s heading to Chicago, then on to an Indians-Rangers game at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, and stops at several Dallas-area courses—Tenison, Stevens and the Dallas Cowboys Golf Club.

The U.S. Open trophy likes baseball, apparently, because it’ll go on to Phoenix and catch the Diamondbacks against the Cubs, and hit a couple of Phoenix-area courses, including the popular public track near Sky Harbor Airport, Papago. Its route to Seattle will wind through Las Vegas, San Diego and Los Angeles. In addition, if you take your photo with the trophy and share it via social media, you’ll be entered in a drawing for tickets to the Open’s final round at Chambers Bay.

The tour is a cool wrinkle and a rare chance for average golf fans to reach out and (almost) touch the famous trophy. Don’t actually touch it, though. We don’t want fingerprints on the sterling silver trophy, which is 18 inches tall, by the way, and weighs about 10 pounds.

The trophy handlers wear white cotton gloves to transport the trophy and move it from place to place. Like at Oakmont, for instance, where it endured a photo shoot in the clubhouse and then was carefully carried to the upstairs locker room by Trostel (wearing gloves) so I could shoot a video with it for SI Golf+ Digital (it will air on GOLF.com on Wednesday, May 13). I kidnapped Trostel and forced him to be part of the silly proceedings. He played along nicely.

I urged Trostel and Driscoll to consider blowing the tour up big next year. Why not parades, why not a six-month-long promotional blast, coast-to-coast, why not fireworks? The trophy is iconic.

“The trophy is emblematic of the U.S. Open,” Trostel said. “When people see the trophy and see the names on it and all the history and get their photo taken with it, we hope it inspires them.”

The trophy certainly has stories to tell. Angel Cabrera, who won at Oakmont in 2007, admitted to taking the trophy to bed with him. Trostel said he saw Graeme McDowell drinking Guinness from the trophy and last year, Justin Rose said his young son, Leo, ate ice cream out of it.

“Well, there’s plenty of room for beer and ice cream in there,” Trostel said with a laugh.

There was also the time when Rory McIlroy went to China with it and the trophy got detained in customs. The USGA had to contact the Chinese consulate and after a few tense days, the trophy was finally released.

“That was a little hairy,” Trostel said. “This trophy goes to so many places and sees so many things. The stories it could tell.”

A few details on the trophy and its tour that I thought you should know:

Does the trophy ride shotgun in the Lexus? Answer: No, it rides in the back seat in its protected travel case and yes, it wears a seat belt.

Does the Lexus have one of those yellow window squares that says “CAUTION: Trophy on board!”? Answer: No, but the Lexus has big USGA and U.S. Open logos on it. You can’t miss it.

Is the winged woman figure atop the trophy holding a Krispy Kreme donut or what? Answer: No, that’s a laurel wreath, a concept borrowed from the ancient Greeks who awarded athletic champions with laurel wreaths.

What happens to the Lexus when the tour is over, do they just throw the car away or might they give it to a deserving golf writer? Answer: Somebody call security…

Let’s go to the Van Cynical Mailbag, where getting your question printed digitally is sort of like winning a trophy:

Van Cynical, Now that Tiger is single and can play the field again, does that help or hurt his golf? — BigMark via Twitter

I hate to go against the Van Cynical brand name here but watching Tiger at the Masters warmly embracing old friends like Darren Clarke and Mark O’Meara and, of course, hugging his kids at the practice range, made me feel a lot better about him. That suddenly human touch he displayed made him more likable than he’s ever been so I’m not going to pile on. I hope it helps him because who among us wouldn’t like to see Tiger become a force again? It’s good for business. For an obligatory laugh, I’ll simply quote Groucho Marx: “Behind every successful man is a woman, and behind her is his wife.”

Sickle me Elmo, Will Tiger be able to pull off a “Rory” and win, like Rory did last year after he broke up with Caroline Wozniacki? — The Bogey Train via Twitter

Maybe we’ve all seen “The Natural” too many times, where Robert Redford’s in a batting slump because his girlfriend left him. Rory seemed relieved to be out of the relationship. I don’t know any details about Tiger’s private life here but Vonn seemed to be a great fit for he and his family. The official word was that their careers interfered with their ability to spend time together, which I find believable. Tiger’s errant driving doesn’t make the Players a likely spot for him to pull a Rory but let’s face it, Tiger’s game is a fluid entity and not a known quantity. If he gets his tee ball in play, he’s got a chance.

Van Scythe, My caddie is horrible at reading grain. Should I just buy white bread or find someone else to help me with my food shopping? — CapBozo via Twitter

I think you nailed it, Cap, you need help. I’d probably go with the whole wheat when it comes to grain but one way to avoid the issue is to do what I do—go with Pop Tarts. They make hellacious sandwiches.

Vans the Man, You’re a golf course counter, aren’t you? What’s your favorite course of the 1,200 you’ve played? Mine is Cypress Point. No-brainer. — Jeanne Sutherland via Twitter

It depends which way the wind is blowing, J.S. I change my mind a lot. One week, it’s the TPC at Star Base 7, the next it’s the Links at Southern Pillboxes and the next it might be Harlem Country Club or The Caves at Iwo Jima. If you want a more traditional pick, it’s hard to not be in awe of the experience of walking Pebble Beach, much like Cypress.

Sickle cell bohemia, Two water-related questions. Has anyone hit the water at 17 and gone on to win the Players? And where is Stewart Cink? — Michael Abbass via Twitter

I believe the TV stat you’re referring to, Bassmaster, is that no one has hit into the water at 17 in the final round and gone on to win and while I believe that is true, I am unable to verify. Cink has not had a top-10 finish since 2013 but is currently ranked second in greens hit on Tour so there’s still hope.

Van Napskipper, Which would you rather see, a Mayweather-Pacquiao rematch or Jimenez-Bradley? — Dan O’Neill via Twitter

A lot of viewers—not me—got suckered by Mayweather-Pacquiao the first time around, Dan-O. I never cared and still don’t so I’d go with Jimenez and Bradley. I like the crafty Spaniard in this bout and I’ve got to say I sided with him wondering about Bradley’s drop because from what little TV showed, that drop looked questionable. Too bad the TV types were so enamored of the dust-up that they never explained the ruling.

Vantidote, What’s up with all the bullies? The PGA Tour bans a blogger and The Most Interesting Golfer in the World picks on a kid pro? — Klaugh56 via Twitter

Well, Kal-El, every media member signs a form each year agreeing to follow the PGA Tour’s assorted regulations. The blogger you mentioned was banned for knowingly violating the agreement on more than one occasion. You get pulled over for speeding in a 25 mph zone, the cop doesn’t care if you think the speed limit should really be 40, he only cares that you were breaking the posted speed limit. It’s open and shut. Keegan Bradley and his tag-team partner caddie can take care of themselves although they should know that in match play, if you’re taking a drop, your opponent has every right to make sure it gets done right and you shouldn’t whine about it. Also, if you’re a caddie, don’t talk to the other player unless he’s talking to you.

Van Cynical, Has Nick Faldo ever said anything remotely interesting during a broadcast? — Lionel Mandrake via Twitter

I thought it was interesting, L-Gauge, when Jordan Spieth pulled off that sweet flop shot at the Masters on Saturday and a stunned Faldo admitted he never even thought of that possibility. Great expert analysis. There was also that time he said, “Crumbs.”

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