Winner of the Ryder Cup only once since 1999, the United States team is overdue to reclaim from the Europeans a golden trophy that stands 17 inches high, weighs four pounds and is named after a British seed merchant who paid $400 and commissioned it for a fledgling international match-play golf competition 89 years ago.
If the Americans finally regain possession of Samuel Ryder’s prized cup and the celebration understandably gets a bit out of hand at Hazeltine National Golf Club, they know who to call.
St. Paul silversmith Vern Vanderpoel is their man.
Vanderpoel is the soldering specialist Town and Country Club management called upon in an emergency a year ago. That’s when then-newly crowned British Open champion Zach Johnson arrived at the private St. Paul club toting another venerable British sporting trophy to a corporate outing the day after the 2015 PGA Championship.
When club employees lifted the famed Claret Jug — a silver replica entrusted by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club to Johnson for a year after his victory at St. Andrews, just as it is loaned to every champion — from its traveling case, it was cracked above its base.
“I had had it all of three weeks,” Johnson said.
From dawn to dusk, he usually repairs tea sets, candlesticks, flatware, antique lamps, chandeliers, headlight reflectors, you name it at his Snelling Avenue workshop.
When Town and Country Club General Manager Vince Tracy brought the Claret Jug into Vanderpoel’s Brinkman’s Silver Plating, you would think it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any silversmith.
Think again. “He just looked at it and said, ‘I’ve seen that before,’ ” Tracy said.
Turns out, he already repaired a bronze version of the Claret Jug that 1996 champion Tom Lehman had made and displayed at Troy Burne Golf Club, a course Lehman co-designed in Hudson, Wis.
“You see all kinds of things come through these doors,” Vanderpoel said.
And some of them twice, even.
“What’s the chance of that?” Johnson asked.
Vanderpoel also has repaired former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier’s 1985 Super Bowl replica trophy and a U.S. Open golf championship replica trophy bent when shelving above it collapsed at a local country club.
When Johnson’s Claret Jug came in one morning, Vanderpoel told Tracy he could have it fixed in a few days. Tracy asked about 3 p.m. that afternoon because Johnson and the jug were due to throw out the first pitch at Chicago’s Wrigley Field the next day.
Vanderpoel dropped everything and finished it by 3 after he discovered dried glue — lots of it — inside the jug where it obviously had been broken before.
“People try glue surprisingly enough on just about everything,” he said. “You’ve got to find something. When you take it to a professional and find out what it costs, everybody tries to fix it themselves.”
All Johnson cared about on his watch was that it was repaired.
“I was very relieved,” said Johnson, the Iowa native who will play a fifth time for the U.S. Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine National later this month.
If anybody needs something repaired this time around, they know who to call.
“I’ll be here,” Vanderpoel said.