Golf legend Arnold Palmer gives the thumbs up while he reminisces about his Masters experiences during a press conference on the 50th anniversary of claiming his fourth and final green jacket at Augusta National Golf Club on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. (AP)
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — The green jacket is one of the most revered symbols in all of sports, right up there with an Olympic gold medal and the Stanley Cup.
Yet, even with the strict sense of decorum that is afforded the prized garment awarded every Masters champion, it occasionally winds up in spots no one would ever expect.
Like underneath a garbage bag.
Or in Ohio.
Yep, an authentic green jacket is on display at a country club in suburban Cleveland — a long, long way from Augusta National.
"Believe me, when we're showing off the club to a prospective member," Michael Kernicki, the head golf professional at Canterbury Golf Club, said by phone Wednesday, "and we take them into the Henry Picard Lounge, they're like, 'Did I see that right? You've got a green jacket?'"
Indeed they do, thanks for the descendants of the 1938 Masters champion. Picard's family donated it to the club when it was designing a room to honor the Hall of Famer who also served as its longtime pro.
Rest assured, the folks at Canterbury recognize what a special item they have.
"It's pretty cool stuff," Kernicki said.
Each Masters champion gets to keep his jacket for a year, but Augusta National expects it to be treated with an ample level of respect during its 365 days away from the club.
Just ask 2007 winner Zach Johnson, who committed a couple of faux pas during his tenure as champion.
First, not realizing until after his victory that he could take the jacket with him, he wasn't prepared to transport it.
"I have no garment bag," Johnson recalled. "I'm going to New York at 6 a.m., so I covered it up with a trash bag. I didn't want to say, 'Hey, look at the green jacket, me, Mr. Cocky Man.'"
Uh, not good.
Then, during media appearances in Times Square, Johnson slipped on the green jacket while wearing a pair of jeans. Apparently, that didn't go over well back in Augusta, either.
"That's a no-no on the bag, a no-no on the jeans," Johnson said, noting that when Trevor Immelman won the Masters the following year, he received "this nice, embroidered garment bag" — and, no doubt, a not-so-gentle nudge from the powers-that-be to wear the jacket with a proper pair of trousers.
The green jacket accompanied Immelman during appearances in China and Japan, where he was amazed by the excitement it generated. In hindsight, he wishes he had taken it to more places, shown it to more people.
"It's a cherished part of our sport, like an Olympic gold medal or the Stanley Cup or the World Cup in soccer," the South African said. "Not many people get to see it."
But, in keeping with the stuffy traditions of Augusta, the green jacket does not take part in the sort of giddy revelry we've come to expect from Lord Stanley's chalice or even the claret jug, the historic trophy that goes to the winner of the British Open. Both those awards have turned up at some pretty wild parties, even at the bottom of a swimming pool.
When Stewart Cink won the British Open, he tweeted a picture the next morning showing the jug next to a regular glass, jokingly asking which he should use to swig some orange juice. If he ever wins the Masters, we're guessing he's not going to pose the green jacket alongside a Georgia Tech jersey and ask which he should wear to the grocery store.
"I was told to wear the green jacket in golf-oriented events — my foundation, charity, corporate events, golf clubs," Johnson said. "Wearing it to Chick-fil-A? Ain't going to happen."
Augusta National zealously guards its pomp and circumstance more than perhaps any other sports entity, so it's not surprising that only a handful of green jackets wound up beyond its gates on a permanent basis.
One belonged to Gary Player, who won the first of three Masters titles in 1961, took the jacket home to South Africa, and never brought it back. But he promised Masters chairman Clifford Roberts to never wear it in public, a promise that probably wasn't that tough to keep for someone who prefers wearing black from head to toe.
Picard won his green jacket during the Masters' formative years, before the custom of returning it began. He apparently stored it at home, and his family hung on to it after his death in 1997. Then, when Canterbury was undergoing a renovation six years ago, the call went out for memorabilia belonging to Picard, the club's pro from 1939-62.
"As I was told," said Kernicki, the latest to hold the job, "the chairman of our heritage foundation asked by chance, 'Hey, I know back in the day you could keep your Augusta jacket. Do you have his jacket?' The family said, 'Yep, we have the jacket.' So naturally we asked, 'Can we have the jacket?' And they said, 'Sure.' It was a simple as that."
Now, it's the star attraction in the Henry Picard Lounge.
"It's a grand room," Kernicki said. "We have a Masters party in there every year. In fact, it's happening in that room tonight."
Not to worry, Augusta National.
No hijinks were planned for the green jacket.
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson in Augusta contributed to this report.
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