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Dick Harmon: Orem man has Tiger by the Top-Flite

Published: Friday, Feb. 22 2013 7:50 p.m. MST

Nike spends $4 billion a year on endorsement of sports stars who carry its brand on their feet, shoulders and chests, and puts equipment in their hands to smack their golf balls. None is more visible than mega-icon Tiger Woods, who is paid the most.

That’s why the tale of an autographed Tiger Woods golf ball in the possession of Randy Dodson was so intriguing to me when he shared stories of his autographed ball collection as we cruised down I-15 to St. George several weeks ago.

Dodson, of Orem, is the president of Fairways Media and publisher of Fairways Magazine, a publication sent to everyone who has a Utah Golf Association handicap card. His exploits in golf have taken him across the world, from Italy to Portugal, with stops along the Caribbean and every major destination golf resort in America from Florida to Hawaii. He’s had tremendous access to the legends of the game, many of the superstars, and every significant golfer in Utah — both pro and amateur — knows him personally.

Early in his career, Dodson was shooting photos of the Cougar Classic at Riverside Country Club the year Tiger Woods won his third U.S. Amateur title. Woods was playing for Stanford in Provo and Dodson was snapping his photo.

After hitting his first tee shot, Woods turned to the late BYU golf coach and tournament director Karl Tucker and whispered something in his ear. Tucker then approached Dodson and said Tiger wanted to make sure he didn’t shoot photos during his back swing — a no-brainer for any professional photographer.

Dodson followed Tiger the entire round and shot photos. After Tiger finished on the 18th green and came out of the scoring tent, Dodson reached into his camera bag, grabbed a dimpled Top-Flite — one of the game’s hardest and cheapest golf balls — and asked if Tiger would sign it. He did, with a blue Sharpie.

One day a long time ago, Dodson came home and found his son putting with that Top-Flite on the living room carpet — while Tiger’s signature is a little faded now, it remains his most cherished autographed golf ball. Golf Digest recently came out with a list of PGA Tour players who sign golf balls and those who absolutely refuse to do so. Tiger is on the refuse-to list.

When Dodson saw the article, he chuckled. He got Tiger on a Top-Flite.

When the Oasis Golf Course in Mesquite opened the Palmer Course, Dodson followed legend Arnold Palmer around and shot photos of the star. When things backed up on one tee box, Dodson approached Palmer to sign a golf ball. Without hesitation, he obliged and told Dodson he signed as many as he could because then he wouldn’t worry about his autograph being out there with people trying to make money off it on eBay.

Many PGA Tour stars do worry about that and resent it. Jack Nicklaus told a gathering of Utah media a few years ago that it was a big issue. People would ask for autographs on balls and then sell them to make money, and he did not like it. Others refuse to sign any ball that is not a brand they endorse.

In Dodson’s collection, he has golf balls signed by Master’s champions Palmer, Gary Player, Gary Brewer, George Archer, Billy Casper, Charles Coody, Raymond Floyd, Fuzzy Zoeller, Woods, Mark O’Meara and Mike Weir. He’s also got balls signed by U.S. Open champions Casper, Palmer, Lee Trevino, Orville Moody, Tony Jacklin, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin, Andy North, Jim Furyk and Tiger.

Needless to say, among that list are eight members of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

He once asked the mother of David Duval to get a ball autographed. “He absolutely will sign it,” she said of David, who was kind of hiding in the shadows following his father in a Champions Tour event in Park City. The mother went in the locker room and came out with the signature.

He has signed golf balls from Annika Sorenstam, Laura Davies, Nancy Lopez, Rocco Mediate and local sensations Mike Reid, Jay Don Blake and Dan Forsman.

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