Written from the heart

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More than a million

It may be the biggest mystery in golf. Bigger than why some people still use “double eagle” instead of “albatross” or why we insist every putt breaks “toward the ocean.”

How many autographs did Arnold Palmer sign in his 87 years on earth?

Given that he was golf’s most tireless signer, and that he spent the better part of six decades under constant demand for his autograph, the number would seem astronomical. Perhaps even record-setting, if there was such a way to measure those things.

Recently, the good folks at Arnold Palmer Enterprises took an honest attempt at figuring out the number.

Vice-President Cori Britt, who was on the bag when Palmer played his 1,000 Tour event, estimates that in the course of a given tournament week — between practice, pro-am and competition days — Arnie would sign 400 autographs. Multiply that number by tournaments played, and we get 400,000.

Technically, Palmer made 1,053 starts between the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions. Fifty of those starts, however, were at the Masters — and the demand for Arnie’s autograph that week was even higher. Call it 500 autographs per week times 50 starts, so 25,000.

Next are general items sent to his offices in Latrobe and Orlando to be signed. Between 1958 and 2016, the company estimates that Arnie averaged 250 items a week. Multiple that by the number of weeks, make some slight adjustments for variable weeks, and the number is 696,000.

Now time to add it up: 400,000 plus 25,000 plus 696,000.

The final total of autographs signed: 1,121,000.

If that number sounds conservative to you, that’s OK with the team at Bay Hill. They didn’t want to arrive at some outlandishly high figure that couldn’t have been humanely possible to achieve without benefit of handwriting PEDs or robotic arms. They wanted a real estimate, one that Arnie could have legitimately achieved.

Of those million-plus Palmer autographs, 46 are owned by collector Joe Galiardi. He’s the author of “Hooked on Autographs” and is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest collection of autographed golf balls. He currently has balls signed by 417 different golfers, other sports personalities, celebrities and politicians (including the last nine presidents, starting with Richard Nixon).

He was more fan than collector when he attended a practice round at the inaugural Transamerica Senior Golf event at Silverado in Napa, California in 1989. Being from Western Pennsylvania, Galiardi just wanted his hero’s autograph on a golf ball. So he waited for Arnold Palmer to finish his practice round (which Arnie did by draining a 25-foot putt for eagle).

“As Arnie walked off the 18th green, he was mobbed with autograph seekers, including me,” Galiardi recalls. “When my turn came, I thought of introducing myself as a fellow Western Pennsylvanian but decided not to. I handed Arnie a Pebble Beach Golf Links logo ball and he willingly signed it. I thanked him and walked away with my first autographed golf ball. That eventful day marked a turning point in my life — with that prized autograph, my fascinating new hobby was launched.”

Just two of Galiardi’s 46 Palmer autographs are on golf balls; because of his desire to sign legibly, Palmer was often frustrated by the dimpled balls that played havoc with his penmanship. Of the other 44 autographs, 18 are on books — including the first book Palmer wrote in 1961 called “Hit It Hard” — 12 are framed photographs, 10 are personal letters, three are on golf magazines, and the other is on the handle of a numbered Bulls Eye putter. Galiardi also obtained other Palmer signatures, donating those for charitable organizations such as the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Each of those 46 Palmer signatures has a story behind it. Galiardi’s favorite came from 1995 when he attended the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf event in La Quinta, California at PGA West.

“Halfway through the tournament, I sat down on a grassy mound with five other unknown spectators waiting for Arnold Palmer to arrive at one of the tees,” he says. “While the other players in his threesome headed for the tee, Arnie did something I’ve never seen done before in all of the PGA TOUR tournaments I attended. He came over to the six of us, shook our hands and thanked us for supporting the senior tournament. He made us feel like we were special.

“To me, that attention to his fans showed his rare trait of warmth and down-to-earth thoughtfulness. His caring and generous spirit is what made us love him.”

The total number signed — 1,121,000 — is impressive. But it only hints at the true meaning of a Palmer signature.

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