Steering clear of others' trophies to avoid jinx
AFTER a practice session in Florida two weekends ago, Rory McIlroy invited his neighbour, Keegan Bradley, back to his Jupiter home.
Displayed on McIlroy's kitchen counter was a one-of-a-kind pitcher - the silver claret jug he received for winning the British Open.
McIlroy's friends have treated the trophy, which dates to 1872, like an archaeological relic, picking it up gingerly and studying it. Not Bradley, though.
Imitating his neighbour's reaction the other day, McIlroy recoiled, put his arms up in an avoidance gesture and said: "Uhhh, no!"
Bradley, golf's king of quirk, said it was true. He has a type of trophy phobia that he shares with other players on tour. Those in its throes treat the major championship hardware, in particular, as if it were radioactive.
"It's like there's a glow around the claret jug that he can't get within, like, an inch," Rickie Fowler, another of Bradley's golf friends, said.
"We didn't want to push him into it. Something bad might have happened."
One player's paranoia is another's precaution.
Australian Adam Scott drank out of the US Open trophy after his countryman, Geoff Ogilvy, won it in 2006. Perhaps that explains the third-round 73 Scott put up this year at Pinehurst to tumble out of Open contention.
He did touch the green jacket before he won the Masters last year. Still, he would rather leave the claret jug and the Wanamaker Trophy, the PGA Championship's prize, alone.
"I'm not very superstitious," he said. "But I think, if that stuff does exist, I'd rather not jinx myself."
In 1996, after Tom Lehman won the British Open, those who drank from the claret jug he took home included Phil Mickelson, then his neighbour and in his fourth full year on tour.
Mickelson, who had earned a degree in psychology from Arizona State University, did not give a second thought to handling the prize until his British Open miseries mounted over the years to the extent that he could have filled the claret jug with his tears.
At that point, he said half-jokingly, he had cause to wonder whether he was bad at links golf or he had jinxed himself by drinking from the trophy.
"You never know," said Mickelson. He delivered himself from such speculation last year with his come-from-behind victory at Muirfield.
Mickelson's British Open victory is why Fowler did not hesitate to get up close and personal with the urn now in McIlroy's possession.
"I know Phil had drunk out of the claret jug prior to winning," Fowler said. "I've never been a big believer in the jinx thing, and Phil kind of solidified that."
However, it is not superstition that causes other players to avoid contact with the major championship trophies.
"It's definitely much more respect," said Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, the 2010 US Open champion.
"At the French Open, this guy kind of thrust the claret jug in my hand and asked me to do something," he added.
"It takes that mystique away. Part of me doesn't feel like I want to get close to it until I have the opportunity to really bond with it for 12 months.
"It's like the golden chalice that I want to earn. I don't want somebody to actually give it to me until I've earned it."