By Tom Talbot
It seems like a long time ago, yet it also seems like yesterday. It has been 10 years since the last PGA Championship was held in Rochester, N.Y., in 2003. The grounds of Oak Hill Country Club seem better than ever, and my kids have aged 10 years, too. This time, they wanted to go with me.
I was fortunate to pick up four $5 practice round tickets for the Tuesday of the nearly week-long event. We grabbed a handful of Sharpies and a few golf items, and off we went for what would be a 10-hour marathon autograph session situated right in back of the clubhouse, up against the fence separating the pro golfers from the excited fans.
This time I didn’t just have my 12-year-old twin boys with me; my 9-year-old daughter wanted in on the action and had a great time as well. The reward for all that standing around? More than 200 autographs from the top 150 golfers in the world, a beautiful day at one of the great golf courses in the country and a lot of family fun and memories.
The last time the PGA came to town, my brother and I stood between two holes far away from the crowds and amassed quite a collection of golfer signatures as they passed by. This time we decided to stay with the crowd and hope for some of the big name autographs up against the fence overlooking the putting green and behind us where the driving range is.
The majority of golfers were what you would expect – willing signers and happy to chat with the fans. There were a few moody ones and a few that pretended as if the fans weren’t even there paying for their prize money.
The kids have never seen an autograph buffet like a PGA event, and they were all pumped up to get their items signed. The village that seemed to rise overnight was even more impressive than the last time our city was turned into golf heaven. The store is just amazing, looking every bit as impressive as a department store at a mall.
Choosing a hat was quite a feat, as there were probably 25 different types. I went with a really nice mesh green hat with the simple logo of the Championship for the bargain basement rate of $32. Yikes. But hey – it’s once every 10 years. I bought a screen-printed yellow 18th hole flag for one twin for $14 – a relatively good deal, all things considered. I went with the embroidered white flag for $32. At the end of the day the yellow one looks much better signed because the embroidered logo is tough on the Sharpie.
The last time I attended this event I went with the official poster; my brother bought the $50 giant ceramic golf ball and I have always regretted it because it looks so cool at his house. I have never seen the ball for sale again except once on the Goodwill website, and I have been holding onto it ever since. I was shocked that they let us go in with it, and it may have had something to do with the kids. Last time I couldn’t bring in anything, including a tennis ball that I hoped to get Chris Evert to sign when she was dating Greg Norman.
Once again, the giant golf ball ruled the day, as many of the golfers actually made a point to go over to my son and sign it. Several of them even held it and told him how cool it was and how they had never seen one before. The pro shop was also selling rubber playground balls that looked somewhat similar to the ball. One golfer almost dropped the ceramic ball because he picked it up not realizing the weight of it. It is signed by more than 70 golfers and is a one-of-a-kind item.
Like all of our items that day – no Phil or Tiger. But we got pretty much everyone else. Here are a few highlights of the day.
Say what you want about Sergio, he was great during the practice rounds. He signed a ton of autographs and was really attentive to all the kids. He just signs a quick “Serge,” but it was a surprise to get his autograph.
It was an absolute madhouse whenever Mickelson was around. It was like the Beatles were there. I have to give props to Mickelson, who could have just blown off the crowd like many of the golfers do when they become this popular. After his round he signed for at least a half-hour, but we just avoided the whole thing.
The crowds must have been 20 deep, and Phil had a circle of security guards around him and they would grab an item, hand it to Mickelson, then return it to its owner. Fans started pushing at one point and a barrier actually toppled over. It was fortunate no one was hurt.
I looked at my old 2003 flag, and I have a nice large Mickelson autograph that will suffice for my collection. I have also received some items back through the mail, but he does use an autopen – at least some of the time.
He told us right from the get go – “You’ve probably never heard of me.” No matter – we would soon learn we had a connection to golfer Dave McNabb. As we approached him, there was no one else around. He held out his hand and asked one of my sons his name. My son replied “Dalton.” Dave looked a little shocked.
Let me back up a little. You see, when my wife gave birth to our twins, they were nameless for two days. They were referred to as “Baby A” and “Baby B.” We had two girls names picked out as well as a boy and a girl, but we were unprepared for two boys. (Is anyone ever really prepared for two boys?) Anyway, the movie Road House was on, and Patrick Swayze’s character is named Dalton. So yes, we named one of our boys after a bouncer from one of the most manliest movies of all time. Even the director’s name from the movie was “Rowdy.”
So not only did this pro golfer name his child after Dalton from the same movie, his son is also only a few months apart from my son. It was a nice connection. Not sure how many kids can say they were named after a bouncer. Two?
Personally, I liked the other bouncer in this movie even better: Sam Elliott was unforgettable as legendary bouncer Wade Garrett.
Watson signed a lot of autographs, but demand certainly exceeded supply. Out of all of us, my son was the only one to get Bubba to sign his flag.
We didn’t win the Tiger lottery in ’03, and we didn’t get any closer in ’13. You have to get extremely lucky and follow him all day, every day. And even if you do get his autograph, it will probably be on your hat as he’s walking.
This is the sound many of the fans yell when Boo Weekley tees up his golf ball. Unfortunately, in this case it’s a sound to voice one’s disapproval, the opposite of applause.
When Weekley first broke through in golf, we wrote a letter to him and he wrote us back a nice letter along with a few autographs. Everyone is entitled to a bad day, but Boo just blatantly ignored his fans as he walked right by the crowd. If you don’t want to sign autographs, that’s fine. But don’t rudely ignore the fans, even the kids, and pretend we aren’t standing two feet away from you. C’mon Boo – it’s the practice rounds. Very surprised and disappointed at Weekley’s act during the practice rounds.
Luck of the Irish
My fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington did not disappoint. Many golfers used the tired line, “I’ll get you after my round,” but this guy means it. He signed tirelessly for almost a hour, and even when the crowd got crazy he limited it to kids only, which I thought was very cool.
It’s pure entertainment to see the dealers get all surly when an athlete says he’s just going to sign for the kids. No more 16-by-20 glossies. No single flags that will have a Buy It Now of $99 before the sun goes down. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the biggest capitalist there is. But it is nice to see the kids go home with something. And I already had him on my flag!
Fujita and K.J.
I’m now a huge fan of Japanese golfer Hiroyuki Fujita. This guy can’t even speak the language and still connects to the fans in a special way. He spent a lot of time with the fans, signing autographs and shaking hands after his round.
As always, South Korean K.J. Choi was rock solid, signing constantly. His autograph is a horrible, unreadable scrawl, but he’s one of my favorites on the tour.
Not only was the tournament a great time, it was also highly competitive. On Sunday, there were still several guys in the mix. To end the weekend perfectly, my brother’s client backed out and I was able to attend the final day following Jim Furyk and Jason Duffner on their final round.
In addition, we had the fancy clubhouse tickets and didn’t have to stand in line to use the facilities or purchase our $11 drinks in official plastic logo “souvenir” glasses. In fact, several fans offered to buy a cup from me because they were not available outside to the “commoners.” I just gave a guy one from my stack and told him he could have it.
Duffner was a fitting champion and even took some heat for grabbing his wife’s backside during their victory hug. Duffner is also featured on one of the non-baseball Allen & Ginter cards this year and has been signing a ton of them through the mail. I still need to get mine in the mailbox. He has a very cool-looking signature.
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