DUBLIN, Ohio – The PGA Tour is honoring two of its most important players - Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus - by making their tournaments a little more meaningful in what has become a crowded golf schedule.
In a resolution approved at the last policy board meeting, winners of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and the Memorial will receive a three-year exemption, instead of the two-year exemption from other PGA Tour events.
The tour also is discussing whether to allow the prize money at their events to be the highest this side of a major, World Golf Championship or The Players Championship.
Palmer and Nicklaus, along with a half-century of star power in golf, led the move in the late 1960s to break away from the PGA of America and form what is now the PGA Tour. Palmer bought Bay Hill in the late 1970s, and it has become a staple on the Florida swing. Nicklaus started his tournament at Muirfield Village in 1976.
In some respects, the tour is acknowledging how difficult it is for tournaments to distinguish themselves. In the last 15 years, the PGA Tour has added four WGCs and three FedEx Cup playoff events to the schedule.
''This was more our desire to recognize two iconic figures who started and operate two world-class tournaments that for decades were lynch pins on our schedule,'' said Andy Pazder, the tour's chief of operations. ''We wanted to make sure their place on the tour calendar, as far as being a high-caliber, world-class event, was secure for well into the future.''
It was unlikely the Byron Nelson Championship would get the same treatment. That event was around for two decades in Dallas until Nelson's name was attached to it.
ALLRED IS ALRIGHT: What started with one good round has taken Jason Allred places he never imagined.
He shot 66 to qualify for the Northern Trust Open, and then parlayed that into a 64 in the second round at Riviera that carried him to a tie for third and more money ($388,600) than the 34-year-old had made in his entire PGA Tour career.
Allred made the most of his most recent chance. He was given a sponsor's exemption to the Memorial, shot 68 in the second round to make the cut and then closed with a 66 to tie for 15th and pick up another six-figure check.
''It's been such a fun journey the last couple of months,'' Allred said. ''If you sat me down at the start of the year and said, 'This is what's going to happen,' on the one hand I would have thought you were crazy. But at the same time, all along I've believed in my ability to do this. The thing is, I'm learning to believe in it more, which is fun.''
Allred played only two full years on the PGA Tour out of Pepperdine, the last time in 2008. Why it took him until 34 to figure it out can be explained in one word - golf.
This is not a guy who takes these chances for granted.
He still remembers where he was when tournament director Dan Sullivan called him on the Saturday night before the Memorial to offer him the spot. And he was at Muirfield Village deep into every evening during the tournament, enjoying the moment with his family. His third child was born a week after his tie for third at Riviera.
His letters requesting an exemption are not run of the mill.
''He wrote a nice, compelling, personal letter to the exemption committee,'' Sullivan said. ''And that stuck with them.''
Allred said he sent an email that included links to stories about his week at Riviera, along with photos of his family to give a glimpse of his life off the golf course, and then he followed that with a handwritten note.
''Just try to let them know how much I love this game,'' Allred said. ''We try to be a blessing to others, to engage the fans and really enjoy it.''
The season is getting short. There are only six tournaments remaining where Allred can hope for an exemption. He is the equivalent of 145th in the FedEx Cup standings. If he could get equal points to No. 125 before the playoffs, he would have his tour card. If nothing else, he is assured a spot in the four-tournament Web.com Tour Finals.
''That is such a bonus,'' Allred said. ''I feel like if you're playing well in four tournaments, you'll have a chance.''
ANOTHER U.S. OPEN: Few players are as experienced at U.S. Open qualifying than Kevin Sutherland. The 49-year-old from Sacramento, California, qualified for the eighth time in the U.S. Open (he was exempt twice), even though he hasn't played a PGA Tour event since last August.
''You play golf, and when you get done, you see where you are,'' Sutherland said Tuesday after qualifying in San Francisco.
Sutherland has played sparingly since a neck injury. A former World Golf Championship winner (Match Play), he has asked for only one exemption in his career, at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-am. He didn't get it. Instead, Sutherland drove down to Monterey as the sixth alternate and played a practice round at Spyglass Hill with longtime friend Paul Goydos.
Oddly enough, the first exemption he received was a few weeks ago from the USGA - to the U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree. Sutherland turns 50 on July 4. He would have qualified on his own through career money, except the cutoff for the exemption was before he turned 50. The USGA asked him to write a letter asking for an exemption.
''I think they gave it more because it was a technicality than it was me,'' Sutherland said.
PADRAIG'S ROLE: Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, longtime friends and World Cup partners for Ireland, had dinner in McGinley's home in London recently and covered just about every subject but one - the Ryder Cup.
McGinley is Europe's captain for the September matches in Scotland. Harrington has fallen out of the world 200 and last played in the Ryder Cup in 2010 as a captain's pick. He would seem to be an ideal vice captain.
''He'd never bring it up. I'd never bring it up,'' Harrington told Greg Allen of RTE radio in Ireland. ''Anyway, I would rather him be completely neutral when it comes to something like that.''
Harrington, however, left no doubt he'd take the job.
''I hope to be a Ryder Cup captain myself someday, and I see being a vice captain as part of the learning curve for that,'' he said.
DIVOTS: Patrick Rodgers is trying to make the most with whatever starts he can get on the PGA Tour. That's why he turned down an exemption into 36-hole sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, because he would have had to play the U.S. Open as a pro, and the Stanford star needs as much money (FedEx Cup points) as possible. Alas, the strategy didn't work when Rodgers didn't make it out of local qualifying. He makes his pro debut at the Travelers Championship a week after the U.S. Open. ... Pinehurst Resort & Country Club has acquired National Golf Club, which was designed by Jack Nicklaus and first opened in 1989. It will be renamed Pinehurst No. 9 and will be available to resort guests in July. ... Nick Faldo plans to play the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen a week before the British Open at Royal Liverpool. ... The BMW Championship will return to Conway Farms north of Chicago in 2015.
STAT OF THE WEEK: In his last three PGA Tour events, Rory McIlroy is a combined 12 over par in the second round, and 35 under in the other three rounds.
FINAL WORD: ''I don't think age was a factor. I think desire was a factor.'' - Jack Nicklaus, going five years without a major from 41 until 46.