A Chat With the Claret Jug

Having endured a full year out of the limelight, the coveted decanter was ready to have a natter

Not long ago, I was privileged to gain an audience with golf’s most iconic trophy, the Claret Jug awarded to the Champion Golfer of the Year. It was a typically dreich Scottish morning when I arrived in St. Andrews—cloudy, rainy, and cool—but I received a warm welcome from my sterling silver interlocutor. We met at his residence, the reception area of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, where he is the centerpiece of a display case shared with the original Champions Belt and the British Amateur Trophy.

GP: Thank you so much for taking time for this, Mr. Jug.

CJ: Please, my friends call me CJ. And it’s not as if I’m that busy. Most days all I do is sit here and get stared at. I’m actually happy for the chance to chat.

GP: Yes, well, I suspect the past year or so has been as challenging for you as for the rest of us.

CJ: Yes and no. The usual hordes of American gawkers have been absent, and that’s been a blessing, but I must say I get a bit bored seeing the same blazer-clad Brits stumble in day after day.

GP: Yes, I suppose that can get old. Speaking of which, can you tell me your age?

CJ: Just turned 148.

GP: My, you look much younger.

CJ: Thank you, I try to stay fit.

GP: And you’re a native Scot?

CJ: Aye, sir, born and burnished in Edinburgh.

GP: But you’re not the original Open trophy, correct?

CJ: No that was Strap here.

GP: Strap?

CJ: That ludicrous red belt I see you’re now staring at. Can you imagine presenting the Open Champion such an atrocity? I don’t know what those lads at Prestwick were thinking. Who would ever wear that thing? It’s not a belt, it’s a bloody girdle—something you’d expect from the World Wrestling Federation, not a proper club! Thank goodness Young Tommy won it thrice on the trot so they had to give it to him. In the end not even his descendants wanted it so they returned it to the R&A and here it is, in here with lucky me. I can tell you one thing, 160-year-old leather has a distinctive odor.

GP: So the belt went to Young Tom Morris in 1870 and then you stepped in…

CJ: Auch, no, laddie, you should know your golf history better than that! I didn’t arrive until ’73. The Prestwick boys were so flummoxed by the loss of their trophy they weren’t able to come up with a prize in time for the ’71 Championship, so what happened? They didn’t hold the event! Can you imagine? When Tommy won again in ’72 all they had for him was a wee medal. I heard the real reason for all the faffing about was the Prestwickers didn’t want to pay for another trophy. Typical Scots. In the end, they split the bill for my creation with the R&A and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers—10 pounds each—which has always struck me as a bit chintzy, but again, that’s the Scots. Besides, I suppose I came out alright.

GP: Well, you’re much grander than a girdle. But I must say, you’re not a big chap—just 21 inches high and a bit over five pounds—by far the smallest of the four major championship trophies.

CJ: What’s your point? I’m also by far the fittest of the four. You don’t reach my age by carrying around a lot of extra weight. Frankly, I’m beginning to worry about Wanamaker.

GP: Wanamaker?

CJ: The PGA Championship trophy. Do you know he weighs almost two stone? It’s no wonder young Collin Morikawa had such trouble hoisting him. And mind you, that weight is all around his middle. He’s nearly as bloated as Bertie!

GP: Bertie?

CJ: The big lad to my right better known as the Amateur Championship Trophy. Look at him—12 years younger than I but so pathetically bulbous. Truth be told, I think he’s let himself go because I get all the attention.

GP: Yes, well, you’ve surely led an interesting life. Tell me a bit about what it’s like to hang out in the homes of all those Champion Golfers of the Year. I can’t imagine the experience of spending three years each with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

CJ: Neither can I, laddie.

GP: What do you mean?

CJ: Once again you’re brimming with ignorance. In the past 94 years, I’ve been held in the hands of only one Open Champion—and that was a mistake.

GP: I don’t understand.

CJ: Back in 1927, the R&A decided that I had become so valuable I shouldn’t be allowed out in public, lest someone kidnap me. That was the day I was sentenced to life in this bloody display case. I suppose I should have been flattered, but I was livid.

GP: So the last player you spent any time with was…

CJ: The 1927 Champion, Bobby Jones. And what a fine lad he was. I’m just glad he didn’t win me two years earlier. That was one of the years he won the U.S. Amateur. He kept dear old Havemeyer [the U.S. Amateur trophy] at the clubhouse of the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, which was destroyed that year in a fire.

GP: Wow.

CJ: Wow, indeed. I think that incident may have had something to do with the R&A’s decision to make Gully. That and Walter Hagen, who in 1926 managed to lose Wanamaker in a New York City taxi cab. The poor bloke spent four years in a Detroit warehouse before he was rescued.

GP: Wait a minute, what’s Gully?

CJ: Not what, who—Gulliver—the traveling version of me. When they locked me up they needed something to hand the Champion. So they cloned me, seven decades’ worth of engraving and all. Gully is the show pony who’s traveled the world and gotten all the hugs and kisses from Jack, Arnie, Seve, Tiger, and the rest.

GP: You sound jealous.

CJ: I was for decades, but I’m okay now. I’m sad never to have met all those lads but I flatter myself that maybe they feel the same about me. Besides, I’m at the stage now when traveling the world isn’t the kick it used to be. Gully at age 94 is better suited to that fast life. We’re actually good friends and on the rare occasions we’re together I love hearing his stories from the road. Did you know he went water skiing with Henrik Stenson and slept with Nick Faldo? What a life he’s led. And I’ve noticed that in the years since his stints with John Daly and Darren Clarke, Gully has finally learned how to hold his liquor.

GP: So who is the only Champion who has touched you since Jones?

CJ: Tom Watson. I don’t know how or why it happened, but back in July of 1982 I was unceremoniously yanked from my case and trotted over to Troon. One glorious week later I found myself sitting next to Watson on the Concorde. My first plane flight, can you believe it?

GP: So did you enjoy the States?

CJ: Not really. I was stuck on a mantle in Kansas City most of that year and one day he knocked me to the ground while taking a practice swing. I actually lost consciousness. Next thing I knew I was in his basement clenched in a vise as he beat me with a mallet. He’d put a major dent in my rib cage that needed repair. Mark you, Watson may have had a soft touch with the wedge in his prime, but he was certainly no maestro with a mallet. I never thought I’d say it, but I was glad to get back to this case.

GP: Yeah, that sounds like a pretty painful experience.

CJ: Aye, but nowhere near as painful as getting engraved. Nothing is worse. My birth year was excruciating. They had to catch up with the past winners—carved in 13 names— and where did they choose to put them? On the underside of my spout!

GP: Ouch.

CJ: Aye, imagine getting your lower lip tattooed and you’ll have the idea. These days, of course, it’s just one name a year but I still dread it as you would a colonoscopy. And you know what’s the saddest part? It influences who I root for—I can’t help but pull for blokes with short names.

GP: So who’s your man this year at Royal St. George’s?

CJ: Jon Rahm. A seven-letter man.

GP: And your worst nightmare?

CJ: Christiaan Bezuidenhout. I mean, does he really need that second “a”?

GP: I see you have nothing on you for last year? Shouldn’t it say “No Event—Global Virus” or something?

CJ: Aye, but the R&A for some reason wants to keep the 2020 line a secret until Open Championship week, so not even I know. I’m hoping they come to their senses and go with a simple “COVID.”