PGA Championship Stories: The Lost Trophy

By Ryan Watson

The Wanamaker trophy held up

The PGA Championship is one of golf’s four major championships, making it one of the year's most prestigious tournaments. First contested in 1916, the tournament has seen many of the game's greatest players lift the famed Wanamaker Trophy. The trophy is truly a behemoth at nearly 30 pounds, while standing 28 inches high and 27 inches across. For comparison, the U.S. Open trophy is fewer than nine pounds while the Claret Jug of the British Open is a practically a modest trinket. In contrast, the Wanamaker Trophy, named for the PGA co-founder Rodman Wanamaker who paid for the cup, is a hulking silver mass that recalls hockey’s famously large Stanley Cup. It’s the kind of trophy that would be hard to misplace. But that is exactly what happened in the 1920’s in a story concerning one of golf’s greatest players.

Walter Hagen and the Missing Trophy

Walter Hagen’s haul of 11 major championships makes him the third most successful golfer at major championships. Five of Hagen’s major titles were PGA Championship wins, including a streak of four in a row from 1924-1927. It was during this run that Hagen purportedly lost the Wanamaker Trophy. During the 1926 tournament, Hagen was asked why he didn’t bring the trophy to the awards ceremony. He claimed he left it at home as he didn’t plan on losing. The crowd no doubt chuckled at Hagen’s hubris and he repeated the stunt again in 1927 after another victory.

Walter Hagen golf swing with crowd

However, Hagen’s streak finally ended in 1928 when Leo Diegel went on to win what was then a match play tournament. It was then that Hagen claimed to have lost the trophy in 1925 after a night out drinking. Hagen was celebrating his victory in Chicago and rather than return to his room to stash the prize, he paid a cabbie to deliver the trophy to back to the hotel. Only when Hagen returned to the hotel the next morning did he realize it wasn’t there. After Hagen came clean in 1928, the PGA quickly made a duplicate of the Wanamaker Trophy and this is the trophy given out to new champions each year.

The Trophy is Found

The original Wanamaker Trophy resurfaced in 1930, five years after Hagen claims to have lost it to an unscrupulous taxi driver. However, the rediscovery of the trophy served only to ask more questions as to what really happened in 1925. The trophy was found by a worker in the basement of golf club manufacturers L.A. Young and Company, located in Detroit, in an unmarked box. The company also happened to be Hagen’s golf club manufacturer. Hagen never strayed from his story, so whether it was actually simply misplaced or if more nefarious forces were at play we will never know. This trophy is now on display at the PGA Historical Center in Port St. Lucie, Florida, where it is still engraved each year with the new champion’s name.

About the Author

Ryan Watson is a freelance sportswriter and history professor. He has been an avid fan of golf since his father signed him up for golf camp as a young child. Ryan enjoys following the professional game and learning about new equipment and gadgets.