By Ben Bryant, MA USGTF Certified Golf Teaching Professional®, Tampa, Florida
In early February 2017, Jordan Spieth had a run-in with some rude autograph seekers after a practice round at Pebble Beach. When asked about the incident, Spieth said the “fans” were actually professional autograph seekers. He became irate, he says, when they dropped an “F-bomb” in front of several children after he refused to sign their memorabilia. This isn’t the first time Spieth has taken autograph sellers to task. In June 2016 during practice rounds for the U.S. Open, Spieth said during a press conference that he had refused to sign autographs for “eBayers” because they were “smooshing” kids out of the way.
Few people would begrudge Spieth for condemning child smooshing, but it does seem that professional autograph and memorabilia sellers are more and more active at golf tournaments. Some tournaments have begun setting up kids-only zones so players can interact with young fans without interference from adults looking to make a fast buck.
A quick glance at eBay and other collectable sales site shows why this is such a growing trend. Collectibles are big business. Sports collectibles in general is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry. A genuine Jordan Spieth signed golf ball, pin flag, program, etc., can sell for hundreds of dollars. The most sought-after name in golf has to be Tiger Woods. Signed items from his college days at Stanford can sell for thousands. Beyond golf, the most popular items are those signed by Michael Jordan, who is as popular now as when he was playing. NFL quarterbacks and big-name baseball players are also in high demand. Additionally, websites like rackrs.com and justcollecting.com have created large online communities where collectors can buy, sell, and trade their collections. Although the big sports for this hobby have historically been baseball, football and basketball, golf is steadily on the rise.
The very nature of golf tournaments themselves allows for fans to get up close and personal with their favorite athlete. Players are constantly moving through crowds and near galleries of fans, which creates a much more intimate experience than, say, an NFL football game, where fans generally have little opportunity for autographs.
So it’s little wonder that sellers have been showing up more and more at golf tournaments. Or maybe it’s because of the ever-growing demand for golf memorabilia. In 2011, a new record was set for the sale of a golf collectible. The green jacket worn by Bobby Jones at Augusta National sold at auction to an anonymous overseas buyer for $311,000. As long as collectors have that kind of cash to throw around, Spieth and the rest of today’s golf stars can expect to see a lot more professional autograph sellers pushing their way to the front of the crowd.