Planet Golf — 14 November 2013 by Bob Sherwin
A piece of U.S. Open history

It doesn’t have a cool name, like the Claret Jug or Stanley Cup, but by any name or nickname golf’s United States Open Championship trophy is easily recognizable and oozing with tradition and history.

Gene Sarazen, Robert Jones, Jr., among the Open champions.

Gene Sarazen, Robert Jones, Jr., among the Open champions.

It’s one of the sport’s great relics, alongside the Open Championship’s Claret Jug and the Masters’ Green Jacket.

It’s also a replica.

While the tournament is one of America’s few sports events that dates back to the 19th Century – 1895 – the original trophy was destroyed in a fire in 1946. A new trophy was awarded in 1947 and that given to the winner of the U.S. Open each summer. Then it’s quickly taken away.

The official Open trophy is permanently housed in the USGA Museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History in Far Hills, N.J. After the initial trophy presentation after the tournament, the Open champion then receives a replica and the original heads back to Jersey.

That list of champions includes Lawson Little, Jr. You might not have heard of him but he was among the game’s greatest golfers – and athletes – particularly in the 1930s. Here is a little background on what he accomplished during his war-and-injury shortened career. He also won the 1935 Sullivan Award, given to the nation’s top amateur. Bobby Jones is the only other golfer to win that award.

Little’s replica trophy reached Seattle this month, through his son’s association with golferswest.com. His son, Lawson Little III, who was the head pro at Quail Lodge in Carmel, Ca., for the past 34 years before retiring this year, wants to spread the word about his father. Displaying the trophy is one way to learn about his dad’s career.

Back in the day engraving

Back in the day engraving

Little not only won the 1940 U.S. Open at Canterbury County Club in Cleveland, Ohio, he also won the “Little Slam’ twice, in back to back years. That means he won the British Amateur and the U.S. Amateur in 1934 and did it again in 1935. To do that, he had to win 32 straight match play matches. The amateur events were much more prestigious that professional events during that era.

His Open trophy (seen here) is a magnificent piece. The top of the silver jug is a female figure with open wings. It has two handles on each side with a narrow base. There is an etching of a old-style golf scene on the side.

What’s particularly cool about this trophy is the champions’ names: Robert (Bobby) Jones, Jr., Harry Vardon, Willie Anderson and Gene Sarazen, who Little beat in the 1940 playoff. The trophy is exactly how it was – up until 1940. Little was the last name engraved on this trophy.

What’s interesting is that the names were etched in fairly big letters at the beginning. Then over the years as space began to run out, the names were listed at about half that size. Some names are even randomly etched at the bottom support.

A silver ring has since been added to the bottom to list latest winners.

The trophy has been on display in the trophy case at the Members Club of Aldarra in Sammamish, Wa., and soon will then be shipped back to the Little family in Monterey.

U.S. Open Championship

U.S. Open Championship

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 44th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. He won't win the club championship any time soon with his 14 handicap and default-swing slice but he does have a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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