For much of 2005 and early 2006, as Woods prepared for a day of world beating he would brush past his closet and steal a glance at his most treasured keepsake. Tucked in between the rows of victory red Nike Golf shirts was Woods green Masters jacket, size 44L for a little extra room to grow.
Its an affinity born of history and whet by the garments transient status. Masters champions wear that title for life, a legacy that transcends careers and binds generations, but the green jacket, the ultimate symbol of achievement, has a shelf life away from the manicured confines of Augusta National.
The champion is allowed to take the jacket with him for one year, returning it to the champions locker room after what is almost always a whirlwind journey.
Within hours of Zach Johnsons 2007 Masters victory, the celebrity that accompanies the jacket whisked the kid from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, from Augusta, Ga., to Times Square in, well, a New York minute. From there, curiously, a new Masters tradition was born, when the Johnsons found themselves walking through the streets of NYC with the most iconic garment in all of sports casually draped over a shoulder. One may dream of holing that 3 footer to win the Masters since he was 3-feet tall, but carrying a suit bag down Magnolia Lane seems a tad pretentious.
As a stop-gap, the Johnsons slipped the jacket into a trash bag ' colored green, appropriately enough ' and carried on. When Trevor Immelman joined the club a year later, shortly after the jacket ceremony in Butler Cabin he was also presented with a suit bag, although it didnt stop fans from noticing him.
We went from China to Japan to go play a tournament there, Immelman said. When we deplaned and walked down to the baggage reclaim area I was recognized by some golf fans. These guys realized it was me, then realized that I was carrying the green jacket with me, I mean these guys started crying.
Although hes had the jacket, dubbed a shade of green to match Augusta Nationals grass that is called Pantone 342, fitted over his broad shoulders four times, Woods has worn it only at the far end of Magnolia Lane. Each year at the champions dinner Woods slips it on and each year hes in awe of his surroundings.
I remember my first champions' dinner, I'm hosting it in '98, and I'm sitting next to Ben Crenshaw and Mr. (Byron) Nelson, Woods said. At the time I was changing my grip a little bit, and Mr. Nelson says, This is how I hold it. We have knives out. This is how I hold it. Back in 1934 I changed it to this, and I'm thinking, '34, that's a long time ago. And Ben says, No, you've got to hold it like a dove, and the whole deal and the feel and the flow.
For the rest of the year, the jacket stayed in Woods closet, a vivid reminder of why he hits all those range balls and spends so much time in the gym.
Immelman, an international player cut from the Gary Player mold, spent much of his time as reigning Masters champion traveling the world with the games most coveted piece of clothing.
It's amazing. Even when friends and family come over to the house, ask to see it, see the trophy and the green jacket, Immelman said. I mean, it's incredible how a piece of clothing has touched people and their lives in so many different ways. It's pretty cool stuff.
Its a piece of clothing, it must be noted, that did not go over well with the members when it was introduced in 1937. Members were urged to wear the jackets during the Masters so patrons could identify them if they needed assistance, but the coats were made of heavy fabric, impractical in function if not form. A few years later a light-weight model was introduced and in 1949 Sam Snead became the first Masters champion to be awarded a green jacket.
Fifty years later the thick, heavy garment has been made modern and become something much more important. Just ask Woods.