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2003 PGA Champion Rich Beem said that when he dies, his replica Wanamaker Trophy will be turned into "the biggest urn you have ever seen." (Photo: The PGA of America)

The Wanamaker Trophy: A tradition with tales to tell

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If only trophies could talk, my what tales the famed Wanamaker Trophy, which has a long and interesting history as the symbol of victory at the PGA Championship, could tell.

By Dave Hackenberg, Special to PGA.com

There may be a trophy that has more frequent flyer miles. The Stanley Cup, for example, has visited soldiers in Afghanistan and has been to places such as Sweden and Russia as part of the tradition that allows each player from the National Hockey League's championship team to squire it around for a day or two.

There may be a trophy etched with more names. The Claret Jug, of course, has been around since 1872, too late for Old Tom Morris but just in time for Young Tom. That's 130-plus British Open champions' names inscribed on the Jug, from Young Tom to Young Tiger.

There also have been trophies that met more tragic ends. The U.S. Golf Association, in fact, has twice lost its biggest prizes to fire. In 1925, when Bobby Jones was custodian of the U.S. Amateur trophy -- then the symbol of a major championship -- a fire at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta turned it into a cinder. The U.S. Open trophy met a similar fate in 1946 at Tam O'Shanter in Chicago, when it melted into a puddle of silver after another clubhouse fire.

So, sure, other trophies and cups may be better traveled or may have more history, both good and bad. But the Wanamaker Trophy, the symbol of the PGA Championship since 1916, could spin a few yarns of its own.

It has partied with John Daly, for goodness sake. It almost burned Jack Nicklaus' hands after sitting for hours under the bright sun in Dallas. And it has traveled with Walter Hagen, maybe its favorite story and certainly its best known, at least until Rich Beem gets done with it.

Beem, the 2003 PGA Championship winner, once plopped his newborn son atop the Wanamaker for a memorable photograph. But that's nothing. Beem claims that when he dies, his replica Wanamaker Trophy will be turned into an urn, or, in his words, "The biggest urn you have ever seen."

Then, like the USGA's original trophies, it will be reduced to ashes, or something like that. Until then, Hagen's story remains atop the list. But let's start at the beginning.

Early in 1916, Rodman Wanamaker, a sportsman of much renown and the heir to a New York City department store empire, summoned some friends, including prominent golfing types like Francis Ouimet, A.W. Tillinghast and Hagen himself, to a luncheon meeting at the Taplow Club. He thought it was high time to form a national organization to promote professional golfers, who suffered at the time from terminal disrespect.

Remember, it would be another four years before Inverness Club in Toledo became the first major championship venue to open its clubhouse doors to professional golfers during the 1920 U.S. Open. Golf professionals were considered the hired help.

Wanamaker vowed to change that, and his luncheon resulted in formation of The PGA of America. He suggested a professional-only tournament, put up $2,500 of his own money for the prize fund, and ordered a silver cup.

A man with such great vision demanded a great trophy. What he got was 28 inches high, 10-1/2 inches in diameter and 27 inches from handle to handle. It weighs 27 pounds, even without a young child on top.

British-born Jim Barnes won the first two PGA Championships and was the first to have his name etched into the big trophy. Then came Jock Hutchison and Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen and then Hagen again. And here's where it gets interesting.

The debonair Hagen won the PGA Championship four straight years, from 1924?27, and the whereabouts of the Wanamaker Trophy seemed insignificant. He was asked during the 1926 award ceremony why he didn't have the trophy, and the Haig replied that he hadn't brought it with him because he had no intention of surrendering it.

But that's just what happened in 1928. Leo Diegel upset Hagen in the quarterfinals at Five Farms Country Club in Baltimore and went on to win the title with a comfortable victory in the finals. When time came for Hagen to hand over the Wanamaker Trophy after his long reign, he sheepishly admitted he'd lost it.

How do you lose such a shiny, classy chunk of silver? Well, it depends on which version you buy. Was the trophy entrusted to a cabbie in Chicago in 1925, a gypsy cab driver in New York City a year later, or a hack in Dallas after Hagen's win in 1927?

Let's go with this one: Hagen went partying -- no surprise there -- after winning his seventh major championship at the 1925 PGA Championship at Olympia Fields in Chicago. It's a toddling town, and Hagen surely had a toddy or two or three while celebrating into the wee hours of the morning. Somewhere along the line, he jumped out of a cab to join some friends who were heading into a nightclub. The Wanamaker didn't jump with him.

Hagen seemed to recall slipping the cabbie $5 to deliver it to his hotel, but it never arrived. Instead, it somehow made its way from Chicago to Detroit -- would this make it a traveling trophy? -- and was found in 1930 in an unmarked case in the basement of L.A. Young & Company, the firm that manufactured the Walter Hagen line of golf clubs. Lost? Misplaced? Tucked away? No one knows for sure.

In the meantime, The PGA of America had a duplicate of the Wanamaker Trophy made. Once the original was recovered, it was retired and is now on display at the PGA Historical Center in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Champions' names are still added annually to the priceless original, but it is the more recent version that PGA Championship winners pose with these days. That's the one Daly, as the story goes, turned into a keg the night of his come-from-nowhere victory at Crooked Stick in 1991.

It is a smaller replica that PGA champions get to keep for perpetuity, unless they wish to also purchase a full-size replica. One of those, as Rich Beem might someday prove, is also suited for perpetuity.

Dave Hackenberg is the golf writer for the Toledo (Ohio) Blade. This story appears courtesy of the official PGA Championship Journal.

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