With the carefulness of a surgeon and the protectiveness of a parent, Mike Trostel always takes extra precautions when carting around such valuable cargo.
Borrowing a page from the NHL suits who handle the Stanley Cup (or is it the other way around?), Trostel gives select items the white glove treatment when he removes them from the US Golf Association’s museum in Far Hills, N.J., and brings them to the masses as part of a traveling exhibit. The 1-iron Ben Hogan hit in the 1950 US Open? The “Calamity Jane” putter used by Bobby Jones when he won the 1930 Grand Slam? Trostel is in charge of both, giving anyone interested in such high-end memorabilia the ability and the opportunity to look, but not touch.
Trostel spent part of last month’s US Open as official handler for the historic clubs, hanging on-set with the NBC and Golf Channel crews, getting plenty of national television exposure, and enthralling viewers with little-known stories behind some of golf’s most famous clubs, scenes or tournaments. As the curator and historian for the USGA and its museum, it’s what Trostel does.
How did a 29-year-old from Pembroke land one of the coolest jobs in golf?
“I like to tell stories. I like to see the looks on people’s faces when they hear something they didn’t know before,” Trostel said. “I think a lot of life and a lot of work to people is a grind, so to be able to bring them something that is a leisure activity, that’s fun, that brings them joy . . . that’s great to be around.”
Golf has been part of Trostel’s life for some time: He played at Sacred Heart High School in Kingston, then just missed making the team at William & Mary. He’s always had a thirst for history, too, majoring in it at college and wondering, like many history majors do, just how he might turn his degree into a career.
Combining his two loves seemed like a perfect fit. Trostel noticed a summer internship posting on the USGA museum’s website years ago, got the gig, and impressed them enough that the summer stint — paid, by the way — turned into a full year, then longer, on a part-time basis, when Trostel was going to graduate school at nearby Lehigh. His thesis subject? Golf, of course, and how it’s adapted and evolved after coming to the US as a portable commodity.
In September 2010, Trostel got the call he was waiting for. How would he like to become the curator/historian for the USGA’s museum, also affectionately known as Golf House?
“I couldn’t turn it down. It’s sort of a dream job, something that I’d really had my eyes on,” Trostel said. “They want me to be the face and the voice of the museum. Do I pinch myself? Yeah. A lot.”
Trostel’s responsibilities as curator/historian are wide-ranging. He gives tours at the museum, and researched and wrote much of the exhibit text when the museum was undergoing a renovation a few years back. He has written a book, along with Robert Williams, the museum’s director, on the greatest moments in US Open history, given presentations and been included on select panels, and been featured in numerous documentaries that have aired on the Golf Channel in the past year.
He’s traveled around the country interviewing people — including George W. Bush, who kidded Trostel when he wasn’t wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day — and made international trips on behalf of the USGA.
Keep watching golf. You’re bound to see Trostel sooner or later.
“We think it’s a great opportunity to have a young face represent the passion about the game’s heritage and traditions,” Williams said. “The energy he brings to it is exciting. He’s got that young, enthusiastic personality that hopefully is infectious to people.
“He’s been given opportunities to get out there in front of the public and share stories, lead presentations and dialogue, and I think he’s done a great job. Mike’s a great ambassador for the game.”
Trostel also spends the bulk of his time working at the museum, which includes some of the most important memorabilia in this country’s golf history. He’s responsible for acquiring items the museum covets, monitoring auctions and websites like eBay, and developing relationships with past USGA champions that hopefully will benefit the museum down the road.
“It’s making sure we’re talking with David Graham and Lee Trevino, that when and if they’re willing to part with their collection, they’ll think of us,” Trostel said. “We believe we have the best collection of golf memorabilia and artifacts in the world, and we want to make sure it stays that way.”
Still, there are elusive items that remain high on Trostel’s wish list. Jack Fleck still has the clubs he used to beat Hogan in the 1955 US Open. Johnny Miller has kept most of his personal items from his 1973 US Open win, and there isn’t as much Jack Nicklaus memorabilia as you’d expect, considering his long, successful run in USGA events.
One item stands alone, though.
“Tom Watson’s wedge from ’82,” Trostel said. “We’d love to have it. When you rank moments at the US Open or greatest shots at the US Open, it’s at the very top.”
Watson’s wedge is on display at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, where Watson is the golf professional emeritus. At least for now, it’s beyond Trostel’s grasp. Not that he won’t keep trying. He’ll likely bump into Watson sometime soon, at a tournament or during a presentation or as part of a documentary.
“A lot of people come up and say, ‘Wow, you have a really neat job,’ and I think you can say that about a lot of people in the game,” Trostel said. “But the people I’ve been able to meet, the places I’ve been able to see, the fact that I’m holding history, the 1-iron Hogan hit, Calamity Jane, I have a real appreciation for that history, I think it’s such a cool thing.
“I really have a passion for it. Some people coming out of college, you get a job and it’s one step toward a career. I really feel like, when I jumped into this, that this is a career that I’d love to spend the rest of my life doing. It’s just something I love to do.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.