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Guan's Masters invite better than prize money

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – In an ironic play on words, golf’s Silly Season is not paid out in Funny Money. There’s nothing humorous about the cash exchanging hands this time of year, from lucrative appearance fees to big-time equipment contracts. (Yes, we’re lookin’ at you, Rory.)

It’s important to keep our clichés in order, though. While money may seemingly grow on trees for the most elite players – if not the elitist players – it can also be stated that money isn’t everything.

For proof, just try this simple little experiment:

1. Find a PGA Tour professional about 10 seconds after his first victory, preferably on the 18th green, even if you’ve got to elbow his awaiting family out of the way for first dibs.

2. Inform him of a few perks he just captured with said victory.

3. Take note of genuine responses.

You: “Congrats on the million-dollar payday!”

Him: “Um, thanks.”

You: “You’re fully exempt on Tour for the next two years!”

Him: “Great. Who are you?”

You: “You’ll start next season at Kapalua!”

Him: “Cool. Can I see my family now?”

You: “You just locked up a spot in the next Masters!”

Him: “Whoa! That … is … awesome!”

The lesson here is that some things are more important than money – and teeing it up at Augusta National Golf Club in early April is one of ‘em. Every PGA Tour winner will maintain that it’s an honor and a privilege to compete in The Masters. Well, every winner except for those who don’t receive the invitation to drive down Magnolia Lane.

As its policy currently states, winners of opposite-field and Fall Series tournaments don’t gain entry into the field, a long-standing fact which should again raise some eyebrows in the wake of one recent event.

On Sunday, 14-year-old middle-school student Tianlang Guan prevailed at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, punching his ticket for the 2013 Masters. Good for Guan, whose presence should help the club’s worldwide “grow the game” initiative.

Not so good, though, for those who have triumphed on the game’s most competitive circuit and have nothing but the million-dollar payday, two-year exemption and trip to Kapalua to show for it.

“There’s nothing we can really do about it,” said Scott Stallings, whose True South Classic victory this year failed to get him into the Masters. “I mean, it’s frustrating. Obviously, there are some changes being made to validate all wins. Everyone can tell you how hard it is to win on the PGA Tour. To win and not really feel like you’ve got a whole lot for it …”

He doesn’t finish the thought, but it’s clear to see where he was headed.

It’s clear to see where the PGA Tour is headed, as well. By eliminating its Fall Series and offering just three opposite-field events on next year’s schedule – with full FedEx Cup points and purses equivalent to standalone tourneys – there is an abject desire to eliminate the notion that not all titles are created equal.

All that’s left is for Augusta National officials to also recognize and reward these winners, but so far the green jacket-clad legislators aren’t budging.

“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: It’s Augusta’s rules,” George McNeill, winner of this year’s Puerto Rico Open, explained. “They make their own rules; it’s their tournament. Augusta has a small, elite field. If they want to allow an Asian Amateur champion in, that’s their prerogative and their right. Me personally? Yes, I would love to play in the Masters, but I’ve won twice and still not gotten in.”

There are some pretty heavy hitters who may be sitting home next April, forced to watch a kid with peachfuzz on his upper lip navigate the subtle twists and turns of the world’s most iconic golf course.

Do they deserve the honor more than him? Well, it depends whom you ask, but those whose PGA Tour wins didn’t come with an invitation believe they should at least be offered equal rewards.

“I feel like if you can win a PGA tournament, you should be in Augusta,” said Tommy Gainey, who won The McGladrey Classic a few weeks ago. “He beat a lot of great players and he deserves the opportunity. But I feel like I deserve the opportunity, as well. And him being 14, he’s young enough; he’s got plenty of time. But I’m 37, so there’s a lot of difference in age there and opportunity, as well. But it’s OK – I never complain about a win.”

“Good for him,” added McNeill, who has never played the Masters. “If that kids in my position 23 years from now, he might be saying the same thing. But he will at least have played in the Masters before.”

As an amateur, Guan obviously received no money for his victory this past week. Then again, there are some things money can’t buy – and a Masters invitation is one of ‘em. Just ask those players who have won PGA Tour titles and still can’t get in.