The Masters’ Green Jacket grew from near obscurity into golf’s most iconic victory symbol
(This story was originally written for Executive Golfer magazine in 2009)
As the official 2009 Tour season winds down…and the “silly season” kicks into high gear, I start to look forward to next year’s tournaments and especially The Masters. So, I got thinking, where did the tradition of awarding a green jacket to the champion originate? Here is the story.
Besides Joseph’s “coat of many colors,” the green jacket, awarded to The Masters champion, may be the most famous covering in history.
In 1949, Slammin’ Sam Snead posted a pair of sparkling 67’s in the final two rounds and secured his place in golf history as the first player to don the now coveted green jacket. But, how did golf’s Holy Grail come-to-be and was it as prestigious in its first year as it is now?
If you have ever been blessed to walk upon the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club, the stark, natural beauty is breathtaking. Its brilliance of natural tints and shades is an awe-inspiring introduction to Spring’s majesty. One color is clearly dominant above all others…green.
Pine trees, Oak trees, Magnolias, Chinese Firs, and Junipers, all green. Trash cans, you guessed it, green. Even the wrapping paper that covers the legendary pimento cheese sandwiches is green.
Shortly after the tournament’s inception, Augusta National officially went green. After three years of hosting the world’s best golfers, the popularity of the tournament grew (as did the crowds). For that reason, in 1937, Augusta National members were urged to purchase and wear a “green jacket” during The Masters tournament so patrons would be able to identify “a reliable source of information.”
Twelve years later (1949), the club started the now famous tradition of awarding a green jacket to the winner of The Masters. “Where and who that idea came from, we still don’t know,” comments Augusta National’s spokesman Glen Greenspan.
Based on researched media reports from 1949, the public did not know about the fresh, colorful addition to the winner’s closet. Most reporters focused on Snead’s putting woes, not the new addition to his wardrobe.
Nationally, The New York Times stated that Snead, “often called luckless because of his inability to sink short putts when titles were at stake…banged in long putts with the accuracy of a sharp-shooter.” The Associated Press reported the “uncertain putter,” finally “found a putter that would work.” One week later, Time magazine said the new-found putter was borrowed from Ben Hogan “who was still convalescing from a near fatal auto crash.”
Regionally, the South’s dominant news scroll, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution (AJC) heralded that the “Sweet Swinging Hillbilly Sammy Snead” captured “The Masters Crown.” Within the article, Constitution sports writer Bert Prather reported on the victor’s spoils minus any mention of the new threads: “Following the finish, Robert Tyre Jones, Jr. (President of the Augusta National) announced that $1,000 was added to the original $10,000 purse.” The AJC also ran a photo of Snead with Jones and runners-up Lloyd Mangrum and John Bulla. The West Virginian victor is pictured wearing a jacket, but no reference was made to whether it was the green jacket or not.
Locally, it took the Augusta Chronicle eight years until any mention of the champion’s green jacket received coverage. In 1957, Chronicle Sports Editor Johnny Hendrix wrote that “(Doug) Ford (below) was decked out early in the traditional green coat that marks The Masters champion.”
Green with Envy
1976 champion Raymond Floyd said, “It’s the ultimate.”
For Iowa native Zach Johnson, his 2007 victory was a real field of dreams. “It was an out of body experience,” Johnson said. “Just joining that fraternity (of champions) – you’re talking about the men who pioneered the game of golf – joining those guys and being able to wear that jacket for the rest of my life is something very, very special.”
David Wiechmann, of The Daily Toreador, might have summed it up best:
“The Masters is such a special tournament. Why else would you want to wear such an ugly piece of attire besides someone stuck in the 1970’s? But every year, more than 100 men play for the honor to have it slipped over their shoulders.
“The jacket is a status symbol on Tour. Every former champion wears their jacket the night before the tournament starts. This has to be one of the most intimidating scenes in sports. The green-clad is a club all of their own, and you have to be the best for four days to be welcomed into their group.
“The green jacket is the equivalent of being knighted. One green jacket can make you live forever.”
It can also provide a great night’s sleep. Following their first Masters’ wins, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickleson both impersonated Charlie Brown’s Linus and bedded down with the Green Jacket. Earl Woods’ found his son holding it tightly with a smile on his face.
Mickleson was awakened the following morning “bright and early” by his daughter Sophie who “snuggled up inside the jacket.” Giving him a “high five” she said, “Daddy you won the green jacket! Great job.” The most expensive down comforter could not have provided more warmth.
On the other hand, a closet empty of the “Masters Green” can cause a Tour player to have nightmares.
“It bothers me,” said Johnny Miller, who finished second three times. “You get some ‘Masters baggage’ in your brain. The more times you come close and don’t get it, the more it builds up in your head.”
No one may understand that better than Greg Norman. In 1989, Sports Illustrated’s Bob Verdi put it best writing, “It is possible that if he doesn’t earn a Masters champion’s green jacket soon, Greg Norman will opt for a straitjacket instead.”
“This place may finally have done me in,” said Norman. “I would have loved to have won here, but it’s not the be all and the end all. It’s just when you’ve been involved for a long time in the history of the tournament, you want the good side, too – the green jacket. Not for the jacket itself, but for what it means.”
Evolution of Green
Sixty years ago, no one could have fathomed the passion, intensity and homage this 2 ½ yards of light, tropical weight wool would create.
Snead, a three-time Master’s winner, once said “if you asked golfers what tournament they would rather win over all the others, I think every one of them would say The Masters.”
“Putting on the green jacket is something I worked so hard for, for so many years,” Mickleson said.
Larry Mize shared the same dream. “I am from Augusta and I worked at Augusta National. I was close enough to smell, taste, and ‘touch the untouchable.’ Growing up, it was always The Masters,” he said. “I always wanted to get the green jacket. I could not remember what the trophy was for winning. It was always the green jacket; that’s the first thing that came to mind.”
More than two decades since his improbable pitch, to win the 1987 Masters, Mize is quick to relay his reverence for the cloak of champions.
“It is my favorite jacket color,” Mize said.
Thirty-seven other professional golfers, over the past 62 years, would most certainly agree.
**Writers Note: Aussie Adam Scott celebrates his 2013 playoff victory in the rain on the 10th hole. One of the iconic green jacket photos in Masters history.**