For champions, the jacket speaks for itself

By Karen Crouse / New York Times News Service

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters green coat that came into vogue in the late 1930s has become what amounts to the world’s most recognizable reversible jacket. Augusta National Golf Club members wear theirs on the grounds to make themselves visible to tournament patrons seeking guidance on the course.

And the reigning Masters champion wears it to make himself visible outside the club’s gates to anyone in search of a connection.

The winner is allowed to remove the jacket, one of the most classic prizes in sports, from the Augusta National grounds only during the year of his reign.

Gary Player said that after he won the 1961 Masters, he took the jacket home to South Africa, “hung it up with my honors blazer from other sports at school in a plastic bag,” and forgot about it.

The next year, Player lost to Arnold Palmer in a three-way playoff and returned home. Shortly thereafter, he received a call from Clifford Roberts, one of Augusta National’s founders, reminding him that he needed to return his jacket to the club.

“I said, ‘Well, you can come and fetch it,’” Player said. “He laughed about it, and he just said, ‘No, in all seriousness, please don’t ever wear it in public.’”

Only one jacket is allowed to circulate in public in any given year, heightening its mystique.

“It’s very rare that it makes appearances anywhere,” said the 2013 champion Adam Scott, who treated his green jacket as his plus-one.

It was on his arm in his native Australia, in his homes in Switzerland and the Bahamas, and at every organized dinner or informal party to celebrate his becoming the first golfer from his country to enjoy the pleasure of the jacket’s company.

To the club members, the bright green garment — made of tropical-weight wool and polyester, with a rayon lining, an Augusta National logo patch on the left breast pocket and brass buttons — is a status symbol.

On Scott and the other players who have donned it over the decades, the jacket represents something more powerful. It is a conversation piece, a cover-up that causes folks to display their joy and awe.

“It’s been mostly what anyone talks to me about in the last 12 months since the Masters,” Scott said, adding: “It always gets an incredible reaction if there are golfers in the room. If they are not golfers, they wonder why I’m wearing a very bright green jacket, I think.”

In airports, at cocktail parties and waist-deep in the Pacific surf, strangers have shared with Scott where they were last April when he defeated the Argentine Angel Cabrera on the second playoff hole.

“People were just as excited to tell me where they were when I won and their story as I was talking about the Masters,” Scott said. He laughed. “So I got cut off a lot of times.”

The jacket’s hue, called Masters green, proved ideal for color television, which captured it, and the tournament, in all its radiance. If the jackets could talk, oh, the tales they could tell. The 2011 champion Charl Schwartzel left his in the back seat of a car driven by a tournament volunteer.

“The car drove off, but the guy was honest enough to bring it back,” Schwartzel said, adding: “It could have been worse. If you left it in a taxi, then they would have gone with the jacket.”

Phil Mickelson, the winner of three Masters jackets, has worn one on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and in the drive-through of a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, where he was photographed by the store manager.

“I think it’s such a cool thing to be able to travel around with it,” Mickelson said, adding, “That’s a really special thing that the club allows the champion to do.”

Mike Weir, who in 2003 became the first Masters winner from Canada, donned his jacket to drop the puck at a Toronto Maple Leafs playoff game against Philadelphia and got chills when the players responded by tapping their sticks on the ice.

Trevor Immelman, who won 10 years after O’Meara, was in an airport in Japan when a group of businessmen saw the green jacket draped over his arm and started crying.

“I think the awe is the same as when I’ve touched an Olympic gold medal or Stanley Cup,” Immelman said. “It’s the pinnacle of sport, really.”

Immelman’s countryman, Player, who won three Masters titles from 1961 to 1978, said he had never worn his jacket in public. “Not even at my dinner table with my 13 grandchildren,” he said.

Jack Nicklaus, a six-time winner, said, “I’ve never taken it off the club grounds.”

Fuzzy Zoeller, who won in 1979, said he had worn his jacket during a parade in his honor in his hometown, New Albany, Ind. “And that was about it,” he said.

Zoeller is reunited with his jacket every year when he returns to Augusta National for the Champions Dinner and the par-3 contest. “There is something magical,” he said, about wearing it on the grounds during the tournament. “People want to walk up and feel it, touch it.”