What could be easier than signing your name? Checks, credit-card receipts, contracts, Christmas cards, letters to Aunt Sally in Wichita: even if you aren’t famous enough to be asked for your autograph, you’ve had to sign so many things in life that you could do it in your sleep.
But some signatures are tougher than others. Those screens at the rental-car counter – the ones where you sign with your finger – or the forms at the government office where the box for your John Hancock is barely big enough for the J and the H: Those are work.
So imagine how difficult it is to autograph a golf ball, a small, round object with a slick outer coating covered in 336 dimples. Think about scrawling your signature on a pockmarked sphere only 1.68 inches in diameter with a felt-tipped Sharpie that may or may not be worn to a nub.
Scratching your name on asphalt with a rock would be easier.
In the past couple weeks, our writers cornered a number of players from tours around the world and asked them their secrets to signing a golf ball. The answers, while interesting and humorous, had one universal theme: There is no secret. It is just, as Billy Horschel put it, “an absolute pain in the ass to sign a golf ball.”
“You can’t walk and sign them,” Horschel continued. “You have to sort of learn how to do it and make somewhat of a decent signature on it. Maybe Bryson DeChambeau (can do it) because he’s got everything figured out. He probably was at home before he turned pro and signed about a thousand golf balls to figure out how to do it.”
Maybe, but a lot of the game’s perfectionists take a hard pass. “Just say no,” Adam Scott said when asked his secret for successful ball-signing.
Tiger Woods doesn’t sign balls. Never has. He has been criticized for that policy more than once when fellow players ask for balls for charity auctions. But like most things in Woods’ life, if he can’t do it well – and it’s almost impossible to sign a golf ball without looking like a kindergartener learning cursive – he won’t do it at all.
No one knows for sure when the golf ball became an autographable item. The Sharpie fine-tip permanent marker wasn’t invented until 1964 and wasn’t widely distributed until the brand was acquired by Newell Rubbermaid in 1990.
So no one got the chance to ask Ben Hogan to autograph a ball in his heyday. If someone had, Hogan’s answer, if he had deigned to answer at all, would likely have been the same as Tiger’s and Scott’s.
A college golfer who met Mr. Hogan in his office at his old eponymous company on Pafford Street in Fort Worth, Texas, asked him to autograph a print of Hy Peskin’s famous photo, the Merion 1-iron from 1950. Hogan stared at the kid for what couldn’t have been more than three or four seconds. But it felt like a year.
Then Hogan said, “OK,” and went to his desk where he pulled a box of Kleenex out of a drawer and wiped the picture in slow, clockwise circles. After properly cleaning the surface, he opened another drawer, took out a legal pad and a marker and practiced his signature twice before signing the photo.
Imagine the ordeal he would have gone through signing a ball.
“Slow. You definitely have to go slow. And you definitely have to practice. I didn’t practice when I first came out but my first few autographs on the golf ball were pretty bad. It takes doing it a while. And slow.” — Stacy Lewis
As for how today’s pros handle the golf ball thing, two former world No. 1s share a similar trick. “You’ve just got to rotate as you sign,” Rory McIlroy said.
Lydia Ko agreed, saying, “The trick is to rotate the golf ball and not your hand. And you have to do it slowly. You can’t rush. It’s never going to look great but if you go slow, you have a better chance of it being legible. And you need light grip pressure. That’s a real key.”
“Slow,” Stacy Lewis agreed. “You definitely have to go slow. And you definitely have to practice. I didn’t practice when I first came out but my first few autographs on the golf ball were pretty bad. It takes doing it a while. And slow.”
Georgia Hall, the reigning Women’s British Open champion, disagreed with Ko, saying, “You have to hold (the ball and the pen) with a lot of pressure.”
Another LPGA winner, Marina Alex, sided with Hall on the pressure part but offered another bit of advice. “The secret is getting a really good marker,” Alex said. “There are some of the Pilot ones that I use that have a really fine tip. If you get a thicker tip, you get a lot of smudges and it’s borderline impossible. Then you hold the ball tightly so you have a stable base. My signature gets a little more swirly than it would on a pin flag or a piece of paper. But the key is a fine marker and hold it steady.”
Sei Young Kim agreed with that. “My hands are small so I have to hold the ball and the Sharpie tight,” the seven-time LPGA winner said.
Kim, like a lot of Korean players, signs her name with Roman characters in the West and in Korean when she’s in Asia.
Two-time major winner In Gee Chun always signs the abbreviated “In Gee” in Korean but puts her total number of professional victories (14 at present) below the name. She writes the number in Hanja when she’s in Asia and in numerals everywhere else.
She isn’t the only one who abbreviates. Playing in the United Arab Emirates, where the ink dries quickly, European Tour player Matt Wallace said, “Apart from Marc Warren I think I am the only MW (on tour). So I do a big ‘MW’ and then an ‘a’ and a double ‘l.’ I use a black Sharpie. Always black. I hold the ball and turn the hand. But it’s hard, isn’t it?”
Indeed, it is. On that point, every player agreed in full.
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