There are many reasons Francesco Molinari shed a tear in the dying light at Carnoustie.
His victory at The 147th Open was the first major of his career and the realisation of a boyhood dream. That it came on the Angus links, the most feared of The Open’s venues, only added to the emotion.
However, it’s the thought of lifting the Claret Jug which really puts a lump in a player’s the throat – the moment he is crowned Champion Golfer of the Year in front of the whole world.
The Claret Jug is what every player dreams of. It is no surprise that Molinari joked his phone was red-hot in the hours after his win, with family and friends desperate to know when he, and it, would next be in town.
A trip to Italy will be a first for the Claret Jug, with Molinari the nation’s first-ever Champion Golfer. Yet, it will be just the latest piece of history for one of the world’s most iconic trophies.
The Challenge Belt
Despite being one of the most instantly recognisable trophies in sport, the Claret Jug did not exist until 1872.
Indeed, when The Open began at Prestwick in 1860, the winner was presented with the Challenge Belt, made of Moroccan leather and embellished with a silver buckle and emblems.
The Belt was purchased by Prestwick Golf Club at the encouragement of the Earl of Eglinton, an enthusiast of medieval pageantry, who played a major role in establishing The Open.
The first rule of the new competition stated that the winner “shall always leave the belt with the treasurer of the club…until it becomes the property of the winner by being won three times in succession.”
That happened in 1870, when Tom Morris Jr won The 11th Open at Prestwick aged just 19. With no prize to present, the Championship was not held in 1871.
Finally, an agreement was reached in 1872 between The Open’s three host venues – Prestwick, The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
They agreed the winner would receive a Gold Medal and they would each contribute £10 to the cost of a new trophy: a silver Claret Jug.
Tom Morris Jr became Champion Golfer again in 1872 but, as the jug was not ready, he was instead awarded a medal inscribed: ‘The Golf Champion Trophy’.
The Golf Champion Trophy
It is a lesser-known fact that the Claret Jug’s formal name is The Golf Champion Trophy but what is not disputed is its status in world sport.
Tom Kidd, the first competitor to win on his debut since the inaugural Open, was the first to claim the new prize when he triumphed in appalling conditions at St Andrews in 1873 – but his is not the first name engraved.
Kidd’s name sits just below that of 1872 Champion Tom Morris Jr, who won just as the decision to commission the trophy was being made.
In 1920, all responsibility for The Open became solely that of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club and seven years later, they made the decision to retain the original Claret Jug on permanent display.
Twenty eight different players held the original as Champion Golfer, including record six-time winner Harry Vardon.
Since then the Champions’ replica has been presented each year and stays with him for 12 months until he defends his title.
Jordan Spieth had that honour at Carnoustie in July, handing the trophy over on the first tee in front of a packed grandstand and live TV cameras.
“It wasn’t an enjoyable experience,” he joked.
“I thought maybe somebody would meet me in the parking lot and I’d just give them the case back and we’d move on.
“It’s the coolest trophy that our sport has to offer. So, having to return that was certainly difficult. It kind of hit me a little bit there on the tee box.”
Molinari has all that to look forward to in a year’s time at Royal Portrush and he will immediately seek to win it back straight away.
Over a hundred other players will hope he’s apart from it for much longer than six days.