It’s nearly impossible to talk about the P.G.A. Championship‘s Wanamaker Trophy without mentioning how the five-time champion Walter Hagen lost it in Chicago after winning the event in 1925.
As the story goes, while out in Chicago celebrating the win, Hagen gave his taxi driver $5 and asked him to take the cumbersome trophy to his hotel. It not only never arrived, but Hagen never admitted the loss to the P.G.A. until he lost the championship in 1928 and had to turn the trophy over to the winner.
The trophy is tied to the history of the P.G.A. It was named after the department store owner Rodman Wanamaker, who in 1916 formed the Professional Golfers’ Association of America.
“Rodman Wanamaker was a big fan of professional golf and perhaps even more so of Walter Hagen,” said Connor Lewis, a golf historian. “He believed that professional golf was the way of the future — perhaps a decade ahead of the general public — who at that time believed in the ideals of the amateur game.”
Wanamaker invited a group of golf professionals, including Hagen, to meet and form the association to help elevate the professional game.
“In those times professional golf was not an actual occupation; it was frowned upon,” said Tom Clavin, the author of “Sir Walter,” a biography of Walter Hagen.
Wanamaker had two main motives, Clavin said. One was to form a professional association to enhance the position of golf. Another: Money.
“Let’s face it,” Clavin said. “There was a commercial motivation for forming the P.G.A. The man was a magnate of department stores. By forming the P.G.A., he could make golf more popular, bring more people into playing golf and sell a lot of clubs, balls and clothing.”
The P.G.A. named the cup after him, and the first P.G.A. Championship was held in 1916 at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, N.Y. Jim Barnes won the trophy, which was designed by Dieges & Clust — the same company that created the Heisman Trophy in 1934. The P.G.A. silver trophy weighs 27 pounds and is more than two feet tall and two feet wide, handle to handle.
“Wanamaker’s prestige and his bankroll gave golf a great jump-start, and it was perfect timing,” Clavin said. “It was after World War I, during the Roaring Twenties, and there were more and more professionals playing. More people started following golf and wanted to know who’s winning. There was Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen catching headlines. Professionals were starting to storm the gates. And Hagen was leading the charge.”
Hagen won the first of his five P.G.A. Championships in 1921, but didn’t win again until 1924. For the 1925 event, Hagen lugged the trophy to the event at Olympia Field Country Club, near Chicago. He won again — but that’s also when he lost it.
In 1926, Hagen defended his title without the trophy. It was P.G.A. policy for the winner to return the trophy the following year, according to Bob Denney. a P.G.A. historian. Hagen told officials, “I will win it anyway, so I didn’t bring it.” Hagen said the same thing in 1927 to defend his title.
“That was Hagen — they just laughed it off,” Clavin said. “He was a showman and great for golf. Everybody was just winking — ‘Hey, that’s Walter.’”
It wasn’t until 1928, when Leo Diegel won, that Hagen confessed to losing the trophy. Again, it was awkward, but officials shrugged it off, Denney said. The missing trophy was replaced with one made by R. Wallace and Sons of Wallingford, Conn. It was ready by the 1929 PGA Championship, with Diegel’s name on it. Diegel successfully defended his title in that year’s tournament and finally took home a trophy, but it wasn’t the Wanamaker.
“You would be hard pressed to find the Stanley Cup or the Heisman where the winner actually lost it,” Clavin said.
In 1931, the P.G.A. announced that the trophy had been found. A janitor cleaning the basement of the building that had once housed the Walter Hagen Golf Products Corporation in Grand Rapids, Mich., discovered a large box containing the trophy, Denney said. How it got there remains a mystery.
“The taxi driver probably dropped it at the hotel, and the hotel sent it to his company headquarters,” said Paul Wold, a historian of Rochester Country Club, where Hagen was club professional.
Hagen, not one for much introspection, didn’t give it another thought, Clavin said.
“You get the impression he was a real prince of a guy,” Wold said. “People loved him, and he really just raised the total esteem of professional golf.”
It’s difficult to top the Hagen incident, but there have been minor gaffes over the years.
In 2014, at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky, the trophy lid fell off as Ted Bishop, who was then the P.G.A. president, handed the trophy to the winner, Rory McIlroy — who caught it before it hit the ground. “You saved me,” Bishop said.
At the 2020 P.G.A. Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, the lid fell off again. Collin Morikawa hoisted the Wanamaker, shaking it until the top lid clanged off and dropped to the ground. Morikawa clutched his chest, replaced the lid, gently lifted the trophy again and kissed it.
While the Wanamaker Trophy passes to a new champion each year, winners also get a replica engraved on site to keep. The P.G.A. has the original, which will soon be on display at its headquarters in Frisco, Texas.
“It would be lousy to have nothing to show for the win,” Wold said. “Wouldn’t it?”