Popular spot to lean to watch on the driving range during the 3rd day of practice rounds of the U.S. Women's Open at Lancaster Country Club on Wednesday afternoon , July 8 2015,.

Autograph seekers have had a field day at U.S. Women’s Open

Posted: July 10, 2015 5:18 pm

[youtube id=”-Nn4AkXTsgQ”]The putting and the driving and the chipping and all of that other golf stuff is nice, sure.

But let’s focus on what some fans of the U.S. Women’s Open are really rabid about.

The signing.

Getting autographs from the likes of Michelle Wie and Inbee Park at the Open is the other major sport going on at the tournament this week.

And the early champion just might have been a 14-year-old kid named Andrew Gates.

Andrew, who is from Lebanon, was carrying around a tournament flag, which you could buy at the Merchandise Pavilion for 25 bucks and which is one of the most popular items to have golfers sign.

By Wednesday morning, the flag was completely covered with Sharpie autographs. In fact, Andrew had already received 156 signatures, just four shy of the 160 golfers registered for the event.

Did he know whose signature was whose?

“Oh no,” he said, glancing down at the sea of inky squiggles. “No way.”

At the practice rounds, spectators had plenty of opportunities to get autographs, and there was always a group patiently waiting behind the driving range or putting greens, lining a rope holding flags, hats, photos, T-shirts and even brightly colored rubber balls for the players to sign. The women graciously obliged, chatting with kids, sometimes posing for photos.

The casual, friendly atmosphere of a tournament’s practice days allows fans to rub elbows and talk to some of the sport’s biggest names, which is a unique experience.

“This event is probably the easiest of all major sports where you have access to players as soon as they get here,” said J.W. Besore, 30, of York, who had collected about 70 signatures on a flag and photos. “As long as you walk with them, they’ll sign. Some of the big names are very friendly.”

Emily Johns, 14, of Exton, was also collecting signatures on a flag and by Wednesday, had already gotten one from last year’s champion, Michelle Wie. Emily said she memorized many of the golfers’ appearances so she could keep everyone straight in her autograph hunt.

“Stacy Lewis is really nice,” she said. “So are Danielle Kang and Kim Kaufman. They asked me how I was doing and what I thought about the sport.”

Gates was very organized in his approach, keeping a roster with the golfers’ names and checking them off as he obtained their signatures. He’s no newbie to the signature game, after all.

At the Travelers Championship tournament two weeks ago in Connecticut, he even got a signed club from golfer Hunter Swafford. He’s gotten sigs from Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, pretty much everyone on the PGA tour except one young golfer who is not very friendly, and in fact acts like a downright diva in at least one autograph seeker’s opinion, but will go unnamed. (OK, a hint: His name rhymes with glory and he’s from Northern Ireland.)

Some fans, like Emily Johns, planned to frame their signed flags and hang them on a wall.

Doug Swartz, 45, of York, said he was going to donate his signed flag to the annual Labor Day Auction held in Lancaster County by Hospice & Community Care, which took care of his grandpa when he was dying.

Sometimes getting an autograph turns out to be thrilling for people on both sides of the pen.

Finishing a practice round late Tuesday morning, Inbee Park handed her putter to her caddie and walked off the green of the ninth hole. A small pack of about a dozen autograph seekers, including 15-year-old Emma Kowzun, caught up with Park, a two-time U.S. Women’s Open champ who earned $2.2 million last year. 

“Good luck,” said Emma, of Saylorsburg, Monroe County, after Park signed a big photo of Emma, who has played golf for two years, posing with Park last July at the International Crown tournament in Owens Mills, Maryland. Emma’s dad, Todd, shot the photo.

Later, Stephanie Connelly, in her first U.S. Women’s Open, arrived at the practice green. Connelly waited beside the rope for a spot, and Emma pounced. But for once, it might have been the golfer who was more excited than the autograph seeker.

“She told me it was her second autograph ever,” Emma said.