PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - As a general rule, I'm not an autograph or a selfie chaser.
Whether on or off the clock as a golf writer, I've had chances many times over to get an autograph or selfie of a celebrity or famous athlete, and left that task to the mob of people wanting it more than me. It's not that I look down upon the people who engage in these pursuits. It can be a fun rush of adrenaline getting a brief brush with a childhood idol. I certainly found that to be true getting Phil Mickelson's autograph after he won a record-tying fifth AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Feb. 11.
I just don't like that getting autographs has turned into big business. A signed golf flag or a baseball card can fetch a good chunk of change on the open market (i.e. the internet) if it can be verified. The money is why getting an autograph has become harder - and less enjoyable - than it should be. Celebrities don't want to be taken advantage of, giving autographs to someone who will turn around and sell them. They want to give back to their fans, but at the same time, they need to watch out for these shady businessmen and women.
At my first AT&T Pro Am in 2015, I saw a woman and a man and a pack of children sitting near the putting green by the first tee of Pebble Beach Golf Links with bags of memorabilia to sign - flags, magazine covers, pictures, etc. When the famous golfers - on this day, it was Jerry Rice and Bert Jones, two famous 49ers - started signing for the crowd, the two adults barked at the children to go get some autographs. It was deplorable, a form of child slavery if you ask me.
Thankfully, none of these poachers were at Pebble Beach when I sought my Mickelson autograph. Only true golf fans showed up at 8 a.m. Monday morning for the two-hole finale. Although it wasn't overly crowded or difficult to get Mickelson's autograph, I still did witness the best and worst in people in the 45 minutes I was in the autograph zone, inspiring this story: The Dos and Don'ts for getting an autograph.
1. Plan to find the right place at the right time.
Having a solid plan of attack is probably the difference between landing that signature or not. With roughly 1,000 or so people crowded around the 18th green at Pebble Beach, I had to make a quick decision: Do I go up in the bleachers for the best view of the green and the awards ceremony or do I join the larger mass of people on the ground near the green? I chose a ground assault, knowing it was the only way to watch the final putts drop and the opportunity to get to the back of the green, where the players exit through a tunnel under the grandstands. I had to sacrifice watching the awards ceremony to be ready near the chest-high fence when Mickelson returned.
Most golf tournaments have a right/wrong time and right/wrong place to ask for autographs. As a general rule, practice rounds are fair game for autograph seekers. My son got Dustin Johnson's autograph on a hat as he strode up the second fairway during Wednesday's practice round in 2015. Putting greens and near where players exit the 18th green (like I did) are the proper places to "camp out" if need be.
2. Let the children go first.
A woman standing near me noticed a pair of young boys trying to work their way through the crowd. She quickly told the boys to sneak in front of her, giving them prime real estate along the fence. Not only was it the right thing to do, it was a savvy move. Pros are leery of adults asking for autographs, as they should be. Athletes gravitate toward the children, probably because they remember when they were young fans hoping to meet their idols. Not only did Mickelson sign their items, he took a selfie with them, too. By the way, the woman got her signature as well.
3. Know what the player likes.
A well-timed shoutout to a player's alma mater or favorite sports team just might get his or her attention. If I were a famous athlete, I'd much rather sign for a fan who shouts "Go Blue" than someone wearing an Ohio State hat. It also might give you a talking point when he or she signs.
4. Bring a backup item and a sharpie.
I really wanted Mickelson to sign a golf ball for my collection, but he declined, saying he doesn't sign golf balls. Fortunately, I had an inkling that this might happen, so I brought a backup - the Pebble Beach hat on my head. Most times, athletes have a sharpie, but bring one just in case. You never know when you might meet a celebrity at a tournament. I ran into Clint Eastwood in a parking lot in 2015. I didn't dare ask Clint to "Make My Day" with an autograph. Even if I did, without a sharpie, I wouldn't have gotten one.
5. Be friendly and patient.
The best advice is probably this simple: Be kind and gracious. It's not easy being famous. I write that without a hint of sarcasm. These golfers are being pulled in all directions by agents, by fans, by sponsors, by their families. They're human. too. Just be thankful for their time. I'm sure it gets old signing day after day.
1. Start Pushing.
Before Mickelson came over to sign, several tournament volunteers addressed the mass of autograph seekers. The first thing they said was 'Don't push'. They noted that the fences were temporary and if the pushing or crush of people got too large, the fence could collapse and cause harm.
2. Shove the item in the pro's face.
The only negative about my autograph experience was a woman behind me. Just as Mickelson started signing my hat, she shoved a picture right in his face. A volunteer asked her to back off. She didn't, and he took it. At that point, I walked away, so I never did find out if the woman got her picture signed. She certainly didn't deserve it.
3. Ask for multiple favors.
I would have loved to get a selfie with Mickelson, but I didn't want to be obnoxious, so I left happy with my signed hat and a photo of him signing it. I don't think it's fair to the pro or fair to the fans waiting for their turn for someone to ask for multiple favors - whether it be two things signed or a signature and a photo. You're being greedy at that point - too demanding of the pro's time and everybody else's.
4. Ask at an inappropriate time.
Most pros will be happy to sign something before or after their rounds if you catch them in the right place. Away from the course, they should be allowed to be normal people. You need to be more careful about when and where to approach them. I think interrupting a player at dinner or in a conversation are the ultimate no-nos. If you catch them walking by in a restaurant or hotel, maybe that will be a good time to go for it, especially if you're willing for a drive-by signature when walking with them.
5. Be rude if the player misses you.
I'm sure it's disappointing if you try all day for an autograph and the golfer leaves before he/she reaches you. I get it. Just don't be rude about it. The players have lives, too. Maybe they're late for their child's birthday party or a get together with friends. Respect their decision to leave whenever necessary. Don't curse them or shame them for leaving. If you're a true fan, you'll come back again, hoping for another shot.
Do you have some tips on how to get an autograph or want to share a story about how you landed a famous signature? Let us know in the comments below.