The Tucson Classic Trophy Has A Storied Past

No one can accuse the Tucson Conquistadores of being unoriginal.

Not for them the crystal chalices, silver plates and other traditional emblems of victory that generally crowd sports trophy cases.  Instead, the organization chose to recognize the winner of the Tucson Open, and now the Tucson Classic, with a  Spanish helmet, a choice inspired by the Conquistadores’ logo.

Once the concept was approved in 1967, Conquistador Al Kivel was tasked with finding a suitable model for it.  It wasn’t easy.  Kivel combed local stores, including Tucson’s downtown favorite Jacome’s, where the exclusive home furnishings department sold Spanish-influenced items, then trendy.  He had no luck, but a Jacome’s buyer directed Kivel to an importer/exporter of Spanish metal works.  By happy coincidence, George Codd, a friend of Kivel, was heading to Spain, known for its fine steel-making since the fifth century B.C.

Tucson Classic Conquistadore Helmet

The Spanish connection didn’t escape the notice of the helmet’s second recipient, Lee Trevino.  When he was crowned with the trophy in 1969, he joked, “You better get a Mexican hat.  I’m not a Spaniard.”

In the early days, the raw steel helmet weighed five pounds; the material was more historically accurate than it was practical.  The trophy was soon lightened and plated with gold-color chrome, but it continued to be made in Toledo until 1994, when Conquistador Jim Ronstadt brought the job home to Tucson’s Caid Metal Works.

Although it was very masculine, the helmet was an equal-opportunity award.  LPGA’s Jan Stephenson, Chris Johnson, Amy Alcott, Penny Pulz and Betsy King all donned the Spanish hat from 1983 to 1987.  Nor was it restricted to golf.  The first woman to be able to claim a serious case of helmet hair was tennis star Billy Jean King, following her 1972 success at Virginia Slims Grand Prix tournament at the Tucson Racquet Club.

As treasured by its recipients as it was, the helmet did pose a few minor problems.  When Phil Mickelson won as an amateur in 1991, he thumped his forehead while attempting to put it on his head.  And in a 2002 Wall Street Journal story, the helmet was used as an example of the problems sponsors can encounter with promotional caps and visors:  When placed on the winner’s head, the helmet completely obscures the cap–and thus the sponsor’s logo.  Ian Leggatt, the 2002 Tucson Open winner cited in the WSJ article, claimed innocence. “I didn’t know what was going on,” he told the reporter.

Mickelson won the helmet two more times but, fearing re-injury, never put it on his head again.  Johnny Miller wore the helmet four times without incident.  In October 2005, the Conquistadores surprised Arnold Palmer by belatedly awarding him the iconic prize for his 1967 win.

Photo: The Tucson Conquistadores

Photo: The Tucson Conquistadores

Kirk Triplett, winner of the 2006 Chrysler Classic of Tucson was the last golfer to go home with the Conquistadore’s distinctive trophy before it went into hiatus in 2007 with the shift to the Accenture Match Play Championship.

The helmet made news when it starred in a special video on NBC during the 2012 Match Play national telecast.  Jimmy Roberts saluted the iconic trophy and the Conquistadores 50 years of service while Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller shared their memories of Tucson.

On March 22, 2015 the Tucson Conquistadores helmet
makes its comeback and will be presented to the winner
of the Tucson Classic.

 

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