Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the April 4 issue of Golfweek.
Dustin Raymond awoke at 3:30 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 11, hit the road at 4 and drove 6½ hours from his home in suburban Atlanta for a chance encounter with Jack Nicklaus.
Raymond, a 45-year-old healthcare professional, had circled the date on his calendar months earlier. The PNC Father-Son Challenge is a major for autograph hounds. The 20-team field included 12 World Golf Hall of Fame members who amassed 350 PGA Tour titles, including 64 majors. It’s also one of the few public golf appearances that Nicklaus and several of his contemporaries make these days.
Raymond is a collector, not one of “The eBay Boys,” as the pros refer to those who have turned a hobby into big business. Attending the Father-Son for the 12th time, Raymond recognized most of the faces in what he called “The Pen,” a roped/fenced area between the 18th green and clubhouse at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club where autograph hunters waited for players to sign post-round.
He’s not alone. The players can spot the pros a mile away.
“I’m taking a good look at you people,” Lee Trevino said. “If you’re overweight and have a beard, I don’t sign. It goes straight on eBay.”
Curtis Strange said the dealers are easy to distinguish. “They all look like they haven’t showered and shaved in days and just got out on parole.”
Maybe that’s why Nicklaus needs a uniformed deputy sheriff and a muscular man wearing shades, an earpiece and a suit to accompany him after the round.
Raymond already secured the Nicklaus signature for which he had driven all this way to obtain. A few years ago, he purchased an Augusta National poster signed by Ben Hogan, Cary Middlecoff and more than a dozen other Masters champions. He since has added 20 or so signatures. Raymond followed Nicklaus for 15 holes before The Golden Bear stopped and added his John Hancock with a black Sharpie. Nicklaus long ago accepted that signing until his hand cramps is part of the pact with his legion of fans, but he, too, runs short on patience with the re-sellers.
“One guy out there said to me today, ‘I’ve got to leave for my son’s soccer game. Can you get these for me?’ So I went ahead and signed a couple for him. Then he followed me the rest of the round,” said Nicklaus, his voice rising.
“I said to him, ‘I thought you had to leave?’ Then there are the guys where I say, ‘Didn’t I get you yesterday?’ And they go, ‘No, no.’ And I know I got them five times. I don’t want to be rude. I’m trying to figure out how to take care of the kids and the people I know that aren’t pros.”
For Raymond, one signature is never enough. He owns dozens of flags with multiple major winners, many of which he showcases online at mastersflags.com. He also owns signatures from every British Open champion dating to 1898, championship programs and old scorecards among his collection of 10,000 or so items, but it is the flags for which he has an everlasting love/hate relationship. He’s up to 23 winner’s flags for the Masters, nine for the British Open and six each for the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.
“It’s a sickness,” Raymond said.
Case in point: a rare, 1997 embroidered Masters flag that he bought with the signatures of Gay Brewer and Billy Casper.
“What else am I going to do with it? I had to turn it into a champions flag,” he said.
For a collector such as Raymond, the pursuit and eventual payoff have provided an adrenaline rush since he got a Pete Rose autograph at the 1980 World Series in his hometown of Philadelphia. But he also knows he has created a daunting task to keep his flags current.
“Every time there is a new champion, I get angina thinking about how many signatures I need to get,” he said. “To get Spieth 29 times (the combined total of Masters and U.S. Open flags) may take five years.”
Zach Johnson and the late Seve Ballesteros are among the Masters champions who concluded that Raymond must be a dealer. When Ballesteros received the key to the city of Augusta, he took pity on Raymond and said, “You have to make a living, too.” At his lone PGA Tour Champions appearance, in 2007 in Hoover, Ala., Ballesteros had had enough and put his hand on Raymond’s shoulder, smiled sternly, and said, “Let’s make this the last one today.”
Every item comes with a story that is a precious memory and transports Raymond in time. Suddenly it’s Friday at the 2004 Masters and Arnold Palmer, dressed in a red cardigan, is signing one last autograph for him – sideways on one of Raymond’s British Open flags – before entering the clubhouse and going to play his final round at Augusta.
What does Raymond’s wife make of her husband’s hobby? “She thinks it’s crazy I’m driving to Orlando and back, basically in a day,” Raymond said. “My wife is a physician, so she is very busy. What I say to her is, I like to drink beer, but not to excess. I don’t chase women. I’m honest, and I think I’m a good person. This is my outlet. This is my passion. I have a lot of energy, and it allows me to focus it in a positive direction.”
Give Raymond credit. He’s a smooth operator in arranging trips to tournaments around activities that she enjoys, too.
“We went to the 2012 U.S. Open in San Francisco and I took her to Napa for three days, and she went to medical school in Chicago so she got to visit her old stomping grounds and see friends during the 2012 Ryder Cup,” Raymond said.
He has attended enough events to learn the idiosyncrasies of many players: Fuzzy Zoeller likes to sign in “Indiana red.” Larry Mize includes a Bible verse (Eph 2: 8 + 9). Phil Mickelson will sign all day but refuses to autograph golf balls and often will announce “No yellow today, guys,” which is code for no flags. Several major winners, including Darren Clarke, Webb Simpson and Johnson, resort to initials-only when rushing through the autograph line. Kenny Perry used to capitalize the first letters of his name and then scribble the rest, but he switched to writing each letter with great care. When Raymond asked what spurred the change, Perry told him that his mother had drilled into him that if someone takes the time to ask for his signature, he has a responsibility to make sure it’s legible. (Perry confirmed the story but said it was a friend,
not his late mother who advised him.)
Having observed Nicklaus on numerous occasions, Raymond said, “You never hand him one item. He’s such a good guy that he will sign them all.” And so he has maneuvered his way to the front row along the fence at Ritz-Carlton, hoping that Nicklaus will sign programs from his victories at the 1961 U.S. Amateur and 1962 U.S. Open (already signed by his playoff opponent, Arnold Palmer). “Now I’m getting greedy,” he said.
Magazine covers, glossy photos and even 5-pound notes with his image are shoved at Nicklaus to sign. They beg, grovel and push closer, and when Nicklaus returns their item signed, some even say, “Thank you.” Raymond leans over the fence and Nicklaus takes his programs one at a time, and jots his signature in his beautiful script. It has been a banner day, but Raymond already is thinking of his next score. He considers hopping in the car and driving to Naples, Fla., where the Franklin Templeton Shootout is underway. He needs 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir.
“If it didn’t add four hours each way to my drive, I’d do it,” he said.
And he was off. The chase for Weir and other major winners would have to wait for the Masters.
Raymond handicaps the pros’ handiwork:
Tiger Woods: “It feels like a one-in-a-thousand chance he’ll sign for you, but when he does it usually is pretty good.”
Billy Casper: “He always took his time and gave his full effort.”