Landing an Exemption

By Rex HoggardMarch 4, 2010, 3:19 am

It was a three-page, handwritten letter that did it for Tim Herron. Not a playing career that spans two decades or four PGA Tour titles or one of the most endearing nicknames in the game.

For Manuel Villegas, brother of Tour star Camilo, it was a simple phone call that landed him one of the toughest tickets in sports. Whatever the tonic, one of the most unscientific and exhausting aspects of golf, at least for tournaments directors, almost always boils down to a personal touch.

“John Daly called me in October and said, ‘I’m available for whatever you need me to do,’” Puerto Rico Open tournament director Sidney Wolf said.

It’s little surprise that JD was granted a sponsor exemption into the Puerto Rico event. He’s a “name” player that puts butts in bleachers and has no problem showing a little appreciation, and this year more than any tournament directors want to feel it.

The art of doling out exemptions has always been an inexact science. As a general rule, former champions at a particular event get a close look – Todd Hamilton’s invite this week at the Honda Classic would qualify – and down-on-their-luck former major champions are low-hanging fruit. Call it the John Daly exemption.

“It’s so hard this year because there are so many names that don’t have priority,” said Ken Kennerly, the executive director of the Honda Classic and a long-time player manager on Tour. “Some of my own clients that don’t have exemptions didn’t get in. It’s tough.”

In many ways sponsor exemptions are occupational hazards for tournament directors, even more so than a bear economy or a tee sheet that is bear of the names Tiger or Phil, because it’s never easy to shoehorn the list of players who deserve an exemption into the narrow confines of the half-dozen available exemptions.

That truth is compounded this year because of all the established players without full status, including headliners David Duval, Rocco Mediate, Chris DiMarco and Hamilton.

For this year’s Puerto Rico Open, which will be played opposite next week’s WGC-CA Championship, Wolf said he received over 40 letters, e-mails or phone calls looking for a spot in his field. That’s more than double what he normally gets.

“We never got anything like that before,” Wolf said. “Next year the most creative request will get an exemption. We’ll have a contest.”

In many ways the art of landing a sponsor exemption has already become a contest.

One player produced a 5-minute video for a spot in the Quail Hollow Championship a few years ago explaining how he would take the time to teach the other competitors the proper way to be southern, like how to wear a camouflaged hat or eat BBQ, while others offer to hold clinics and entertain sponsors.

Kennerly, uniquely positioned to see the issue from both sides, said he has stressed to his clients for years the need to engage tournament directors. “I spoke to the Q-School and Nationwide (Tour) class, and said, ‘Guys, just take the time to reach out to these tournaments.’”

It’s a lesson, however, that some young players are having a hard time learning. Wolf recalls a player who sent a form letter asking for an exemption last year and he called the player’s manager and told him his man needed to do better.

“The player called me, which was great. But then this year I get another form letter from the kid,” Wolf sighs.

Gerald Goodman, the tournament director for the Transitions Championship which will be played later this month near Tampa, Fla., said he received over 100 requests this year, and points out that the exemptions he’s already given out – Duval, Mediate, DiMarco and Daly – all sent hand-written letters and followed up with a phone call.

Of course, personal communication goes both ways. For every one exemption a tournament doles out a tournament director has to tell a dozen or so other players that they’re out. Never an easy “Dr. John” moment.

“It’s extremely hard to call a player and tell them there is no spot for them,” Goodman said. “I try to go down the method of why we made the decision. I face the music. I man up and I think they appreciate that. They just want to be talked to.”

Every job has a “cringe moment,” and sponsor exemptions are a tournament directors cold chill, so much so one director once mused, “I’d give up all my exemptions for one right of refusal. Him? Oh no, he can’t play here.”

No such luck, but maybe if he wrote a hand-written letter to commissioner Tim Finchem the Tour would consider it.

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 17, 2018, 3:00 pm

Tiger Woods teed off at 12:15PM ET alongside Justin Rose for Round 3 of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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Fowler among 5 to skip WGC-Match Play

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 2:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five of the top 64 players in the world will skip next week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Brooks Koepka and Adam Scott all will miss the second WGC event of the year, held next week at Austin Country Club.

As a result, the last man into the field is world No. 69 Luke List. Kevin Na, Charles Howell III, Joost Luiten and Keegan Bradley also got into the field.

Julian Suri and Bill Haas are the first two alternates, if anyone else withdraws from the round-robin-style match-play event.

This is the second year in a row that Rose, Fowler, Stenson and Scott will not play in Austin. Koepka reached the quarterfinals each of the past two years, but he is still recovering from a wrist injury.

The final seeding for the event will be determined after this week’s tournaments. The bracket show is at 7:30 p.m. Monday, live on Golf Channel.

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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.