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.
Also in his collection, Dodson has autographed golf balls from famous athletes or movies stars. These include Julius Erving, Gale Sayers, Spud Webb, Alice Cooper, Mark Rypien, Kevin Sorbo (Hercules), "Charlie's Angels" star Cheryl Ladd, Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer, Steve Young, Karl Malone, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan.
Morgan asked Dodson: “Don’t you have a baseball?”
“The ones that mean the most to me are those of the locals, the people I know, who I’ve looked into their eyes and have a relationship with. Those represent stories and people I’ve known for a long time. One of the most cherished is one from Karl Tucker. Another is Billy Casper.”
Dodson once had this collection of golf ball memorabilia on a wall in ball racks for display. But several years ago when he moved, he put them in shoe boxes and they are in his closet, hidden away.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with them. I don’t care if they are worth any money. I won’t ever sell them. I’ll probably just give them to my son and when I’m gone he can do what he wants with them. But it’s been fun.
“I was as big a fan as anyone out there and wanted to get a piece of it when I was younger. Now, after 22 years in the business, I don’t have as big of stars in my eyes. Seeing the stars of the game doesn’t mean as much as it once did. Maybe because I’m getting older, the legends of the game mean more to me than some of the new players. I’m not as active doing this as I used to be.”
So, that’s the story of one man’s closet and a conversation about a treasure stuffed in boxes away from the light of day.
“I have no exit strategy for them, I really don’t,” Dodson said.
I’d say he’s lucky to have that problem. Enjoy.
He’s got Tiger on a Top-Flite.
Somehow that makes me smile.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.