TROPHY SHOWDOWN: Wanamaker vs. Stanley Cup vs. Best of the Rest

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ROCHESTER, NY – Trophies should have a story to tell. And they should be big, silver, named after someone, and require some muscle to lift them overhead. It’s the Canadian way. Here at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, NY, the world’s best golfers have been reduced to a select few for a chance to win the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday night. Make no mistake, at 28 inches tall and weighing 27 pounds, the Wanamaker is a trophy worthy of a Canadian.

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The PGA Championship first awarded the Wanamaker in 1916, 23 years after the Stanley Cup was awarded to the Montreal Hockey Club. (No, we won’t go into full detail about Voldemort on the Montreal Canadiens team, which is apparently what the club was called before names were invented.) The Wanamaker is named for Rodman Wanamaker: athlete, department store heir, and aviation enthusiast.

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In 1916, Wanamaker brought together a selection of top golfers and other big names in golf to form the PGA of America. He held a tournament, filled the purse with his own money, and presented the winner with a silver goblet.

When it comes to height and weight, the Stanley Cup comes out on top with a height of 35.25 inches and a weight of 34.5 pounds. That’s not to say the Wanamaker is a shrimp, because the PGA Championship prize is heavier than any other major North American sports trophy.

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The NFL’s Vince Lombardi Trophy gets a tick for being named after someone, maybe two for being named after someone people have heard of before, and a third tick for the silver medal. But at just 20.75 inches and (about!) seven pounds, it’s small enough to slip into your golf bag. They also make a new one every year, which they give to the winner permanently. Where’s the sense of history?

The NBA’s Larry O’Brien Trophy only gets a single tick for being named after someone. Sure, the underside is silver, but the 24k gold plating makes it too ostentatious to get Lord Stanley’s approval. And at just 60cm tall and weighing 7.5kg, even Muggsy Bogues could lift it over their heads. They also make a new one every year.

Major League Baseball’s trophy is a contender. At 20 inches and 30 pounds, it’s heavy enough to be taken seriously. And it’s sterling silver. But somehow it’s called The Commissioner’s Trophy. Seriously?!? Think of all the people you could have named it after. Instead, it was named after a rotating cast of guys everyone hates. And of course they make a new one every season.

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To be fair, both the PGA Championship and NHL now give out presentation cups to winners, but at least there’s an original Wanamaker and an original Stanley Cup locked away somewhere. Hockey switched to a duplicate cup in 1963 after Clarence Campbell decided the first was becoming too thin and brittle.

The PGA Championship moved to a presentation trophy much earlier and with a much better history. It started in 1926 when back-to-back world champion Walter Hagen “forgot” to bring valuable hardware to the tournament, saying, “I’m going to win it anyway, so I didn’t bring it.” And Hagen did win, and won the following year again, for the fourth time in a row. However, there was a secret and perhaps an additional motivation for victory. Hagen had indeed lost the Wanamaker.

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When Sir Walter celebrated his victory in 1926, he was tired of lugging the big, heavy trophy around his party, so he stowed it in a cab along with five dollars and sent it back to his hotel. a stroke of genius until it never got there. The chickens came home to snooze in 1928 when Hagen lost to eventual world champion Leo Diegel in the quarterfinals, forcing one of golf’s most colorful actors to confess, say something about a cab ride gone wrong and force a spare trophy awarded to Diegel.

The original Wanamaker finally emerged three years later, but unwilling to take chances, the era of duplicates had arrived at the PGA Championship.


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