The tale of the most cherished trophy in golf began when Young Tom Morris needed a belt. Morris's third straight British Open title, in 1870, gave him the right to keep the championship belt, a band of crimson Moroccan leather with a silver buckle. The belt cost about 30 guineas, a huge sum in those days, so the golfers of Prestwick canceled the Open in 1871. "They were in a panic," says Scottish golf historian Bobby Burnett, "so they asked the members at St. Andrews and Mussleburgh to pitch in." Thus began two traditions: the rotation of the Open among clubs and the presentation of a sterling-silver wine pitcher—the claret jug, made by Mackay Cunningham & Co. of Edinburgh—to the winner.
Today a silver replica of the original goes home with the Open champ for a year. In 1983 Tom Watson dropped the replica after winning his fifth British Open. Back home in Kansas City a few months later, Watson was swinging a two-iron in his study when he knocked the jug off his desk. "Its lip was bent," he recalls, "so I got out my vise grip, put some velvet over the lip and bent it back." In 1996 the jug flew home with Tom Lehman to Scottsdale, Ariz., and acquired a trophy wife. Lehman's daughters, Rachael and Holly, got bored with their Barbies one day. "They decided to play house," says Lehman's wife, Melissa. "Tom's Ryder Cup trophy was the wife, and the claret jug was the husband."
Last year Justin Leonard took the jug home to Dallas and let his parents keep it in their house. "We didn't let it out much," Leonard said last week. Just before returning golf's grail to its ancestral home, however, Leonard got some friends together and put the jug to its original use. "We drank a couple of toasts from it," says the noted neat freak, adding some good news for Mark O'Meara. "But I made sure that it was clean when I returned it."