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The art of autograph

Steve Yingling
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Charles Barkley signs an autograph for a fan before starting his round.
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STATELINE – Acquiring an autograph from one of the megastars in the American Century Championship can sometimes be a frustrating experience.

As spectators found out during Tuesday and Wednesday’s practice rounds, not all of the stars sign.

Of course, most of them graciously do, giving up their personal time to satisfy an unassuming child or angling adult’s keepsake requests.

Fans sometimes follow a celebrity nine to 18 holes with hopes of capturing that signature when the star is through playing. But there are no guarantees that a celebrity will put pen to paper after a five-hour round of golf. They like to relax and eat lunch like anyone else and they have other interests away from the golf course.

Autograph seekers in an informal survey by the Tahoe Daily Tribune tabbed Marcus Allen, Mike Schmidt, Carlton Fisk, Michael Jordan, Ray Allen and Marshall Faulk among the list of stars least likely to sign. Among the most accommodating, according to fans, are David Carr, Ben Roethlisberger, John Elway, Brandi Chastain and any hockey player.

Despite his reputation, Rams’ veteran running back Faulk signed autographs after Wednesday’s practice round. Faulk openly admits that he sometimes isn’t in the mood to give fans what they want.

“It depends on how I feel,” he said. “If you have a bad day and you drive home, you might not speak to your neighbor. If you have a good day, you speak to your neighbor.

“It doesn’t change because I’m a sports personality and people pay to come see me play; it doesn’t mean that I can’t have a bad day and I don’t feel like dealing. When you’re dealing on a day when you had a bad day, you are gonna end up getting into it with somebody and the situation is not gonna be good. So you got to do it when you feel like doing it just to keep things right for you.”

Faulk sets the ground rules when he signs. No magazine covers, no pictures, no jerseys and no footballs. Tournament programs are certain to get his signature when he’s in the mood for signing.

“You keep it simple and you can get through the tournament. You can’t get everybody, so somebody is gonna be upset,” Faulk said. “You set the criteria of what you’re gonna sign and you get guys who don’t agree.”

Tournament rules forbid spectators from bringing sports memorabilia into Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. Autograph requests are limited to celebrities signing the tournament program, pairings guides, hats and shirts.

“It’s become too big of a profession,” said tournament director Mike Milthorpe. “A lot of them will take advantage of their signatures and sell them. Everything changed when (Ebay.com) came out.”

Five years ago a sports memorabilia scammer contracted kids from his motor home in the parking lot to get items signed. Fans have also been known to stash and retrieve their memorabilia to avoid the main-gate checkpoints. But Milthorpe said security personnel is on the lookout for such scams and they have the authority to ban a fan from the premises.

“I know some guys still sneak baseballs and all that stuff in here, but most of the people get a program and are really polite, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and you don’t see that all around the country,” said former major league pitcher Rick Rhoden.

A young spectator became upset on Wednesday because Faulk wouldn’t sign an action shot of the Rams’ running back.

“I don’t sign those. You have a favorite parent that tells you ‘no,’ don’t you?” Faulk jabbed.

The scene started to escalate when a fan farther down the line of autograph seekers became concerned about his chances of getting Faulk’s signature.

“Don’t mess it up for me, brother. Get away,” the fan said.

Compared to Michael Jordan, Faulk looked like Santa Claus. Jordan announced early in his practice round Wednesday that he wasn’t signing and no matter how many people tried, Jordan didn’t budge. It didn’t matter if you wore a Bulls jersey, North Carolina jersey or had a mug shot of his face tattooed on your leg: No meant no.

“It doesn’t matter to me. Last year, I thought they were more accommodating,” said Folsom’s Dwayne Stevenson, who was following Jordan’s group with his three children.

Sparks’ Brandon Acosta tried to get Faulk to autograph a jersey and could understand to a certain extent why Faulk declined to sign.

“I wouldn’t like to be bothered either, but they do make a lot money, so they should give back a little,” he said.

Some young fans understand why Jordan refuses to sign.

“If he were to sign, it’d probably take up an entire day on one hole,” said Anthony Irwin of Yorba Linda.

Creativity can enhance a autograph seeker’s chance of realizing a signature. Take Michael Gingrich of Gardnerville for instance. Gingrich wore green knickers, a white shirt and a green hat in honor of the late Bobby Jones.

“I’ve gotten a lot of good comments from the golfers, and even Marshall signed this year,” Gingrich said.

Faulk would like to see the celebrity golfers treated like pro golfers, signing before and after their rounds of golf instead of between shots on the course.

“They don’t ask real golfers to do that, so why should guys that aren’t that good have to do it,” Faulk said.

Fans should be reminded that the celebrities are instructed not to sign autographs during play once the tournament starts. They may sign before and after their rounds. Also, use of cameras and cell phones are not permitted during the 54-hole championship.

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