TULSA, Okla. — It wasn't that long ago that Parker Weekley, 5, learned how to write his name, so you can't blame the kid for trying to get it just right as he signed autographs between the first green and the second tee at Southern Hills Country Club on Wednesday.
His father, Boo, who was preparing for the 89th PGA Championship, creased his drive down the middle of the second fairway and joined the boy, doling out signatures to a cluster of fans. Back on the tee, Anthony Kim hit a wild hook left and took a mulligan, which missed right. Todd Hamilton, late to the tee after signing his own autographs, laced his drive down the center, and it was time for cheerful signers Boo and Boy Weekley to wrap it up.
"Hey, look pardner, you done butchered your name up on that one," Boo said quietly, crouching to Parker's level. They had their picture taken with a young girl, maybe 10. Parker was trying diligently to fix his name on the girl's ticket, and the fans were eating it up.
"Why don't you tell her you're sorry," Weekley continued, gently coaxing his tot out of the autograph scrum, "and let's go."
Millionaire athletes and their star-struck fans rarely meet outside chance encounters at Starbucks or the DMV, but they routinely come together over the autograph, the telltale sign of celebrity in America. The heat at Southern Hills deterred neither the givers nor the getters Wednesday.
Katie Fafinski, 17, held a white flag and a prime spot: inside the ropes, at the top of a flight of stairs that all the players must climb after completing their rounds.
"I'm giving it to my brothers because they can't come here because they're on a baseball trip," said Fafinski, who got her prized, all-access credential as a member of Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., which will host the 2009 PGA Championship. She pointed at one of the more legible signatures on her flag. "I got Scott Hamilton," she said, confusing the 2004 British Open champion (Todd) with the former Olympic figure skater.
Arnold Palmer has long impressed upon golfers the need to make their signatures legible, and Hamilton's, in block letters, is definitely that. He has an impressive collection of signed sports memorabilia in the basement of his Dallas home and appreciates the value of a good autograph. So does Kenny Perry, who writes his name just as clearly but in cursive.
Vijay Singh shortens his mostly legible John Hancock to "VJ Singh," and you can hardly blame Mark Calcavecchia for abbreviating his name to simply, "Calc." It's hard to say what's going on with K.J. Choi's autograph, a wild, frenetic scribble that looks a bit like the dirt kicked up by Pigpen in Charles Schultz's old Peanuts comic strip.
The nicest signer?
"Probably Rod Pampling," Fafinski said. "He was really nice." She was waiting for Phil Mickelson because, "He looks just like my dad and he's my little brother's favorite player." She was also hoping to get Tiger until someone nearby told her that Woods wasn't playing the course Wednesday.
"I tried to get Angel Cabrera's, but he didn't sign much of anything," said James Hedge of Tulsa, who held a binder full of magazine covers and other player photos for the game's brightest stars to sign.
Woody Austin ascended the stairs, pen in hand, and signed a few autographs.
"You get groups of kids at certain tournaments and they'll ask for everything," Austin said. "Can I have your hat? Can I have your ball? Your glove? How about your tee? I got asked for the prescription glasses I was wearing before I had Lasik. I've been asked for my underwear. I almost had my first boob there, just as I was starting to come up the stairs. This woman said really quietly, 'Can you sign here?' I said, 'You can't tease an old man like that.'"