Getting An Autograph

Writing about my Johnny Palmer driver last week caused me to search to see if I could obtain a golf ball bearing his name as well. I found one for a reasonable price, and it has joined my modest golf-ball collection. Here is the Palmer ball (bottom row, on the left) with five other signature balls that I already had.

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These days, when you think of a signed ball, it’s usually the Sharpie-autographed ones most pros give after their rounds to their walking scorers and standard bearers. (Many pros won’t sign a ball in the course of regular autograph duty.) But manufactured signature golf balls used to be a staple in the game.

As this small sample indicates, there were models for superstars (Byron Nelson), established winners (Doug Sanders) and lesser lights. Johnny Bulla (his model is far right on the top row) was a wonderful man, like Johnny Palmer (and me) a native North Carolinian. Winner of the 1941 Los Angeles Open, Bulla flew planes, was best buddies with Sam Snead and became a heck of a golfer playing left-handed, too. I had several great visits and phone calls with Bulla in his later years. He is one of the subjects in Al Barkow’s terrific oral history, Gettin’ to the Dance Floor.

When it came to golf balls, Bulla was known for being the first player to endorse a model not sold in a pro shop. Bulla promoted the “Po-Do,” an inexpensive ball sold by Walgreens, and caught some flak for doing so. The Po-Do (below) was “vulcanized” for durability. That’s not a word you hear in current golf-ball marketing.

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