AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Imagine the Masters champion slipping on a red jacket Sunday.
Of all the colors found at Augusta National – the pink azaleas, the yellow jasmine, the white clubhouse – no one knows why co-founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts selected green for what has become the most famous blazer in sports.
But it has become a prize like no other among the major championships.
The claret jug is oldest trophy in golf, first awarded the British Open champion in 1872. The Wanamaker Trophy is the heaviest, so much that even strongman Vijay Singh struggled to raise it when he won the PGA Championship. The U.S. Open is the only major that doesn’t have a name for its trophy.
But there is a mystique about the green jacket.
Masters champions don’t kiss it. They don’t hoist it. They don’t drink out of it.
They wear it.
“When you’re able to don the green jacket, it’s the highest privilege in golf,” Zach Johnson said.
“No matter what shirt you’re wearing, it looks good,” Fred Couples said.
Jones came up with the idea when he was at Hoylake for the 1930 British Open, the second leg of his Grand Slam. He was invited to dinner at Royal Liverpool, where he noticed 15 men wearing red coats with brass buttons. He was told that only captains of the club wore the red jackets, and one of them offered to give Jones his if he won the Open.
That coat now hangs in the clubhouse at Atlanta Athletic Club, his home course.
Jones and Roberts thought members should wear matching jackets during the tournament so patrons would know whom to ask for information, a tradition that began in 1937. They selected what the club refers to only as “Masters Green” for the color, with the famous Augusta National logo on the left crest and on the buttons.
Sam Snead was the first Masters champion to be awarded the green jacket after winning in 1949, a gesture by the club to make the winner an honorary member. All past champions also were given one.
The list of those who have worn the green jacket is short and mostly distinguished.
It includes the 44 players who have won the Masters, with Trevor Immelman the latest to join the club. It includes Augusta National members – the club won’t say how many, but it’s an exclusive club.
And it includes Mike Weir’s grandfather.
The current Masters champion is the only person allowed to take the green jacket off club property, and Weir made sure his grandfather had a chance to try it on.
“We had some pictures made before he passed away,” Weir said. “That was pretty cool.”
Only one of the jackets was never returned. Gary Player swears it was an innocent mistake.
He won his first Masters in 1961, and a year later presented Arnold Palmer with the green jacket at the closing ceremony. Player, however, took his jacket home to South Africa after the ’62 Masters, and there it remains.
“I assumed it was mine,” Player said. “I got a call from Clifford Roberts and he said, ‘Gary, I believe you’ve taken the Masters jacket home. You’re not supposed to do that. And I said, ‘Mr. Roberts, if you want it, you better come and fetch it.’ He appreciated the humor and told me I must never wear it around.’ It’s in a plastic bag in my closet.”
No one has won more green jackets than Jack Nicklaus, who won his first Masters in 1963 and his sixth Masters in 1986.
But he didn’t have his own green jacket until 1998.
The club usually finds a jacket that will fit the champion for the ceremony, then makes him one of his own. But something fell through the cracks, and each year Nicklaus wound up borrowing a green jacket for the Champions Dinner.
Nicklaus shared this tale in 1997 with former chairman Jack Stephens, who demanded that Nicklaus get his own jacket.
“I said, ‘Jack, it’s such a great story, I don’t want to ruin it,”‘ Nicklaus said. “I came back in ’98, and Stephens had a note in my locker that said, ‘You have an appointment in the pro shop to get a jacket.’
“Everyone talks about the green jacket. I didn’t get one until 1998.”
Tiger Woods and his crew celebrated his historic victory in 1997 until the wee hours of morning when the champion disappeared. Someone cracked open the door to his room and saw him asleep, clutching the green jacket like a blanket.
“I didn’t fall asleep,” Woods protested when reminded of the story.
“Thank you,” he said with a smile.
Woods was given a 44 long when he won his first green jacket, which felt big enough to be a blanket. But there was a reason for that.
“I remember the guys who have won, they’ve always said the jacket shrinks over the years,” Woods said. “I don’t know if it actually shrinks. Guys just might fill out a little bit more. So, yeah, my jacket is a just a touch big.”
So much history, so much mystique, all for what Immelman described as an “incredible piece of clothing.”
Immelman was playing in Asia last year when he landed in Japan. He carried the green jacket in a suit bag, but it wasn’t long before some golf fans recognized him, and realized what was in the bag. He said they began to cry.
“The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the mystique that goes along, and the history that goes along with Augusta National is just something that not many sports have,” he said. “That was a cool feeling, and something nice to be part of.”