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The Masters Trophy and Green Jacket

At the first of the PGA’s four major tournaments, the Masters Trophy and Green Jacket are presented to winners at Augusta National Golf Course – possibly the most famous country club in the world not named St. Andrews.  Though the jacket has caught the fancy of most of the sports world, many forget the trophy is among the most intricate (and heaviest) designs in all of sports.  Most players rate the moment when the jacket is placed on their shoulders in the stifling Georgia sun and the resulting pictures with the trophy are taken as the highlights of their sporting lives.

History

It took 27 years for the Masters committee to come up with an appropriate trophy for the champion of their tournament.  When golfing legend Bobby Jones and others founded the championship in 1934, a simple three-inch gold medal and a cash prize was considered enough.  The green jacket, a symbol of membership at the exclusive Atlanta-area country club, wasn’t presented to members until the 1949 tournament – though the man to claim it, Sam Snead, and future champions would not be expected to answer fans’ questions about the nearest bathroom or tee box like paying members at the time were.

Shortly before the 1961 tournament, the organizers finally commissioned a trophy – and a highly unique one at that. Made in England out of more than 900 individual pieces of sterling silver, the 35-pound prize is a scaled-down version of the Augusta National Golf Club clubhouse resting on a wide base with room for winners’ and runners-up names to be engraved on it each year.  Since 1993, the original trophy has stayed at the course and winners have received a replica to add to their collection.

The green jacket itself, after the player wears it during post-tournament press conferences, heads home with him and is returned to Augusta National for the next edition.  He will then be presented with a replica tailored to his own size as he defends his championship, one which he is expected to wear every time he comes back to the tournament – which all winners are entitled to do for as long as they choose to enter.

Best Players

Jack Nicklaus (6 wins)

If it’s been said once, it’s been said a thousand times: Nicklaus was the model of consistency.  The only player to get his hands on the green jacket in three different decades, he managed to top the field in 1986 at age 46 – more than 20 years after his first triumph in 1965.  The last is likely the most famous, as he stormed through the back nine in the final round, shooting a 30 – including going eagle-birdie-birdie on 15 through 17 – and ending with a 65 for his first victory in more than two years.

Tiger Woods (4 wins)

The pursuit of the Golden Bear has driven Woods ever since he claimed the green jacket in 1997.  No tournament quite carries the mystique with the tall Californian, which is why few are surprised by his 10 finishes in fifth place or better in just 15 tournaments.  After running away from the field for that first victory, he has had his name engraved on the Masters Trophy three more times, including back-to-back wins in 2001 and 2002, only the third man to pull off the feat.

Arnold Palmer (4 wins)

Winning every other year from 1958 to 1964, Palmer made every Masters from 1955 to 2004 – a streak of 50 straight that may never be equaled.  Competing with Nicklaus often during his championship run, he is one of only a handful of winners to lead the field from start to finish (as he did in 1960).  Among his best-known rounds, many point to his three-way playoff across 18 holes with Gary Player and Dow Finsterwald as the defining victory of his career.

Phil Mickelson (3 wins)

Throughout his early career, Mickelson was known as one of the best players to never claim the Masters Trophy until his first victory in 2004.  He would go on to snatch the title again two years later and most recently in 2010, elevating him to a tie for fourth place in most victories of all time.  Known as one of the most imaginative players in PGA history, his short irons often make the tricky angles at Augusta National seem far easier than they actually are.

Sam Snead (3 wins)

Playing in an era when golf was just beginning to gain popularity on the international scene, “Slammin’ Sam” was famous for rocket-like drives splitting Augusta’s narrow fairways.  With his victory in 1949, he was the first to don the fabled green jacket – then he picked it up again in 1952 and 1954.  Over the course of his career, he finished in the top 5 a stunning nine times.  Only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus have more.

Recent Winners

Charl Swartzel (2011)

Phil Mickelson (2004, 2006, 2010)

Angel Cabrera (2009)

Trevor Immelman (2008)

Zach Johnson (2007)

Tiger Woods (2002, 2005)

Mike Weir (2003)