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Sony Open makes good use of a sponsor exemption

Sony Open makes good use of a sponsor exemption

The Sony Open wouldn't be the same without a teenager in the news.
This was the tournament where Michelle Wie received a sponsor's 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 has started high school and still needs adult supervision to drive a golf cart.
But the question was not what a 14-year-old was doing inside the ropes at a U.S. PGA Tour event.
It's why more tour events don't 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 Governor's Cup, a yearlong competition named after former Governor John Burns, who wanted to help develop junior golf in the islands. 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.
"That's 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 on 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, as he usually does at Waialae, but he has since received the memo that shorts are a no-no on the 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.
The Sony Open spot isn't 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 don't even have a golf team. It's 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 in San Diego 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.
"The tour doesn't like to give up spots," Stosik said. "They have tried indirectly to get it back. But we're so far removed. It's not easy for these amateurs to get to the mainland. For many of them, it's a chance to kick-start their career."
Parker McLachlin, who grew up on Oahu, made his tour debut at the 2000 Sony Open through the Governor's Cup.
"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 couldn't put a price tag on that."
Imagine a city like Dallas, which was loaded with great amateur golfers, staging a similar event and awarding the winner a tee time in the Byron Nelson Championship. Or saving one spot for the top amateur golfer in Los Angeles for the Northern Trust Open.
U.S. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the program works in Hawaii, but "I'm not sure it has the same impact on the mainland."
He said each tournament in communities such as Dallas, Tampa, Charlotte and Los Angeles has more flexibility with its exemptions, but "taking additional spots is probably a direction we wouldn't 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 U.S. our will generate more interest in the community and bring out more fans than giving the spot to a tour player no one knows.


Updated : 2021-06-14 22:14 GMT+08:00