Sony Open makes good use of sponsor exemptions

By Associated PressJanuary 13, 2009, 5:00 pm
2007 Sony OpenHONOLULU ' Anymore, the Sony Open just wouldnt be the same without a teenager in the news.
This is the tournament where Michelle Wie received a sponsors exemption when she was 14, then shot 68 in the second round and missed the cut. Tadd Fujikawa had just turned 16 when he not only made the cut, he tied for 20th.
Among the 144 players at Waialae this week is Loren Chans, who is four years away from a high school diploma and still needs adult supervision to drive a golf cart.
But the question is not what a 14-year-old is doing inside the ropes at a PGA Tour event.
Its why more PGA Tour events dont try to copy the Sony Open.
For the last decade or so, the Sony Open has used one of its four unrestricted sponsor exemptions on a top amateur from Hawaii.
They are chosen through the Governors Cup, a yearlong competition named after former Gov. John Burns, who wanted to help develop junior golf on the island. The 12 amateurs who qualify then compete in an 18-hole tournament at Waialae in late December.
First prize? A spot in the Sony Open.
Thats pretty cool, Geoff Ogilvy said. More tournaments should do that.
Chans shot a career-best 67, then won a three-way playoff with a birdie on the first extra hole. Pretty much the shot of my life, he said Tuesday, recalling his wedge out of the rough and over a bunker to 6 feet on the 10th hole.
Two weeks later, he was on the range at Waialae, where he has been a member since starting golf seven years ago. Only this time, he found himself next to Bubba Watson and Stewart Cink.
Chans also was wearing shorts late Monday afternoon, as he usually does at Waialae, but he since received the memo that shorts are a no-no on the PGA Tour, even early in the week and late in the day. Tour officials would have reminded him that day, but they had no idea he was in the field. They thought he was part of the pro-am.
Chans is a freshman at Iolani School, stands 5-foot-7 and barely weighs more than 100 pounds, not much different from when Charles Howell III played in his first PGA Tour event.
Howell was 15 when he received a sponsors exemption to the old Buick Challenge at Callaway Gardens. A rising star in the junior ranks, he shot 80-75 and missed the cut. But he can appreciate what it means to an amateur to play with the best.
What a neat thing, Howell said. Its a great way to grow the game. It was an overwhelming experience for me, but it was hugely motivational. It told me a lot about my game.
Such as?
That I had a lot of work to do, Howell said with a laugh.
Imagine a city like Dallas, which is loaded with great amateur golfers, staging a similar event and awarding the winner a tee time in the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Or saving one spot for the top amateur golfer in Los Angeles for the Northern Trust Open at Riviera.
The Sony Open spot isnt for teenagers ' they just happen to be the best amateurs in Hawaii.
These young players are amazing, Sony Open tournament director Ray Stosik said. Half the high schools in Hawaii dont even have a golf team. Its not like we have the greatest facilities, or all the world-renowned teachers. These kids have a great work ethic.
The concept is not entirely novel.
The Memorial Tournament offers a spot to the winner of the Jack Nicklaus Award for top college player, along with the reigning U.S. Amateur and British Amateur champions. The Buick Invitational stages an 18-hole qualifier at Torrey Pines for college players.
Giving away such spots always lead to resentment from some corners, mainly players toward the bottom of the food chain.
But tournaments have unrestricted sponsor exemptions for a reason ' to boost interest in the event. Michelle Wie had no shortage of offers when she was still in high school. Ditto for John Daly before he was suspended. And dont forget the old Kemper Open giving a spot in 1992 to former Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien.
The Tour doesnt like to give up spots, Stosik said. They have tried indirectly to get it back. But were so far removed. Its not easy for these amateurs to get to the mainland. For many of them, its a chance to kick-start their career.
Parker McLachlin, who grew up on Oahu, made his PGA Tour debut at the 2000 Sony Open through the Governors Cup.
I was a sophomore in college, and that was a huge thing for me, he said. It was a way to give me a taste of the Tour, the level of play on Tour. You couldnt put a price tag on that.
Cink still remembers playing the BellSouth Classic while in college, making a 10-foot putt to make the cut.
All good players always wonder how good they are, Cink said. They see it on TV and you cant get a real appreciation. Put them inside the ropes and let them play the first two rounds with a real Tour player, then look at the score and see how they compare.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the program works in Hawaii, but Im not sure it has the same impact on the mainland.
When asked whether it could work in communities such as Dallas, Tampa, Charlotte or Los Angeles, he said each has more flexibility with its exemptions, but taking additional spots is probably a direction we wouldnt go.
Chans might not break 80 this week. Or he might tie for 20th.
Have you seen him play? I played in the state open with him and he kicked my butt, Dean Wilson said.
Whatever the case, the local kid with big dreams getting one chance to compete against the best of the PGA Tour will generate more interest in the community and bring out more fans than giving the spot to a tour player no one knows.

Related Links:
  • Leaderboard
  • Full Coverage ' Sony Open
  • GOLF CHANNEL Airtimes
  • Getty Images

    M. Jutanugarn finally joins sister in LPGA winner's circle

    By Associated PressApril 23, 2018, 1:42 am

    LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn won the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open by two shots for her first victory in six years on the LPGA Tour, joining sister Ariya as the second siblings to win on the tour.

    The 23-year-old from Thailand shot a 3-under 68 for a 12-under 272 total Sunday at Wilshire Country Club in the tour's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

    Jutanugarn won in her 156th start after three career runner-up finishes, including at the Honda LPGA Thailand in February. She had 21 top-10 finishes before winning.

    Seven-time winner Ariya tied for 24th after a 70. She joined the predominantly Asian crowd to follow her older sister's final holes, crying as Moriya two-putted to close out the win.

    Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam were the first sisters to win on the LPGA Tour.

    Hall of Famer Inbee Park shot a 68 to tie for second with Jin Young Ko (70).

    Park had opportunities, but she wasn't able to put pressure on Jutanugarn playing in the final threesome. However, Park will return to No. 1 in the world when the rankings come out Monday, knocking off top-ranked Shenshen Fang, who tied for 12th.

    Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

    Jutanugarn began the final round with a two-shot lead and never wavered in fulfilling the potential she first displayed as the LPGA Rookie of the Year in 2013. After a birdie at the second hole, she reeled off nine consecutive pars before sinking birdie putts at 12 and 13.

    She overcame a tee shot that narrowly missed going out of bounds for another birdie at 15 to lead by three.

    Jutanugarn ran into trouble on the par-4 16th. Her approach landed on the green and rolled off it, stopping inches from dropping into a bunker. Her chip shot ran well past the hole and her par putt just missed catching the edge of the cup. That left her with a short putt for bogey, her first in her previous 28 holes, trimming her lead to two shots.

    Ko's tee shot on 18 landed about 4 feet from the hole, giving her a chance to cut Jutanugarn's lead to one shot with the Thai facing a long birdie attempt.

    But Ko missed, leaving Jutanugarn room to maneuver. Her birdie putt came up a couple feet short, but she calmly parred the hole to win. Ariya rushed onto the green and joined others in emptying water bottles on her sister before they embraced.

    So Yeon Ryu (68) finished fourth at 7 under. American Emma Talley (67) and Eun-Hee Ji (71) tied for fifth at 6 under, making Ji one of four South Koreans to place in the top five.

    Getty Images

    After Further Review: Tour players embracing new ideas

    By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 1:26 am

    Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On players embracing new ideas on the PGA Tour ...

    PGA Tour players are trying to tell commissioner Jay Monahan something: They like new.

    In the second year of the two-man team format at the Zurich Classic, 10 of the top 14 players in the world have signed up, including all four reigning major champions. It’s the first time all four have been in the same field since the Tour Championship. If the laid-back event offered world-ranking points – it doesn’t, and that’s part of the appeal – the winner would have received 62 points. That’s the same as the Genesis Open.

    Sure, some sponsor obligations are involved in boosting the field here, but there’s no other way to look at this: Today’s PGA Tour players are not only willing to play events that are a departure from the 72-hole, stroke-play norm. They’re encouraging it. - Ryan Lavner

    On Moriya Jutanugarn's breakthrough win ...

    As much love as there is between the Jutanugarn sisters, it couldn’t have been easy for Moriya, watching her baby sister, Ariya, soar past her as one of the LPGA’s dominant stars the last few years. Mo, though, never betrayed an inkling of frustration or envy.

    That’s what made Mo’s breakthrough LPGA victory Sunday at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open especially meaningful for everyone who has admired Mo’s devotion to her sister. Mo was always a fixture, waiting in the wings to celebrate whenever Ariya hoisted a trophy.

    So emotions were high late Sunday, with Ariya waiting in the wings this time, with Ariya sobbing in Mo’s arms after the victory was secured. It was heartwarming for more than Apple, the mother who raised these talented, loving sisters. As always, Apple was there, too, soaking both her daughters in tears of joy. – Randall Mell

    On the tough scheduling decisions facing the PGA Tour ...

    According to multiple sources, officials at Colonial are poised to announce a new sponsorship agreement with Charles Schwab Corporation on Monday.

    While this is good news for the folks in Fort Worth, Texas, who were in danger of finding themselves on the wrong side of timing, there remain some tough decisions to be made in the next few weeks.

    If the PGA Tour’s plan is to end its season before Labor Day beginning in 2019, something must give. Currently, the Houston Open, a staple on Tour since 1946, and The National are without sponsors. When the music stops in a few weeks and the circuit announces the ’19 schedule, there’s a good chance one, or both, of those events will be the victims of bad timing. – Rex Hoggard

    Getty Images

    Triplett hole-out wins Legends of Golf playoff

    By Associated PressApril 23, 2018, 12:12 am

    RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Kirk Triplett holed out from a bunker for birdie on the first playoff hole Sunday in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf to lift himself and partner Paul Broadhurst past Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman.

    ''Well, you're trying to make it, but you know realistically it doesn't go in very often,'' Triplett said. ''You're trying to give your partner a free run at it. You don't want to hit it up there 20 feet past or do something silly. I'm just trying to hit it the right distance and get it on the right line.''

    Langer and Lehman took it in stride.

    ''You kind of learn to expect it,'' Lehman said. ''These guys out here are so good and Kirk Triplett is a magician around the greens. The odds of making that shot are probably not good, but you certainly expect him to hit a great shot and he did and it went in.''

    Lehman and Langer missed birdie putts after Triplett holed out.

    ''I kind of felt like we both hit pretty good putts, misread them, both of them,'' Lehman said. ''I hit mine probably too hard and Bernhard's was too soft, but you have to hand it to the guys who hit the shot when they have to hit it.''

    Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf

    Broadhurst and Triplett closed with a 6-under 48 on the Top of the Rock par-3 course to match Langer and Lehman at 24 under. Langer and Lehman had a 47, playing the front nine in alternate shot and the back nine in better ball.

    The 56-year-old Triplett won his sixth PGA Tour Champions title.

    ''That's a big roller-coaster - three good shots and mine, right?'' Triplett said. ''I'm feeling a little dejected walking down that fairway there, a little sheepish. To knock it in it just reminds you, this game, you know, crazy stuff.''

    Broadhurst claimed his third senior victory.

    ''I don't get too emotional, but that was something special,'' the 52-year-old Englishman said.

    Spanish stars Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal had a 48 to tie for third with 2017 winners Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco. Singh and Franco, the third-round leaders, shot 50.

    Mark Calcavecchia-Woody Austin (48), John Daly-Michael Allen (49), Steve Stricker-Jerry Kelly (50) and David Toms-Steve Flesch (52) tied for fifth at 20 under.

    Getty Images

    Mullinax (T-2) comes up short of maiden win

    By Will GrayApril 23, 2018, 12:06 am

    The Valero Texas Open saw an unheralded player break through to earn a maiden victory, but unfortunately for Trey Mullinax his day will have to wait.

    Mullinax started the final round within a shot of the lead, having fired a course-record 62 during the final round. He trailed Andrew Landry by one shot for much of the final round while racking up six birdies over his first 11 holes, but a pair of late miscues meant the former Alabama standout had to settle for a share of second place, two shots behind Landry.

    A final-round 69 marked a career-best finish for Mullinax, who is playing this season on conditional status and whose lone prior top-10 this season came after he Monday qualified for the Valspar Championship.

    "I know my game's there, I'm playing really well," Mullinax told reporters. "Give all credit to Andrew, he played really well today, rocksteady. He was putting great, hitting great shots."

    Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

    Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

    Given time to reflect, the 26-year-old will likely look back on the final two holes where nerves appeared to get the best of him. Looking to put some pressure on Landry, Mullinax chunked his pitch on the short 17th hole into a greenside bunker, leading to a bogey on one of the easiest holes on the course.

    Then Mullinax was unable to convert a 9-foot birdie putt on the final green, which would have forced Landry to make his 8-foot par putt to avoid a playoff. Afforded the luxury of two putts for the win, Landry rolled in his par save to cement a two-shot win.

    "Made a bad bogey on 17, but just you've got to hit some bad shots," Mullinax said. "Would have liked to have got the putt on 18 to fall to put a little bit of heat on him, but this experience that I'm gaining right now is just going to help me down the road."