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Players show gratitude for sponsor exemptions

By Doug Ferguson
AP Golf Writer / December 27, 2011
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—Rod Pampling had a few nervous moments while watching parts of the final PGA Tour event on TV, though it ended well for him. After starting the year with only limited status as a past champion, he regained his full card at No. 124 on the money list with $2,033 to spare.

Pampling spent the next month trying to contact every tournament director who gave him a sponsor exemption, thanking them for helping him get his card again. In some cases, Pampling wound up earning his way into tournaments and didn't need the exemption. The way he saw it, the offer of an exemption at least gave him something to fall back on, so it still meant a lot.

"I've been doing this 25 years. I'm not saying I've never had a guy call me and thank me for doing that, but it's the first in a long time," AT&T National tournament director Greg McLaughlin said. "It's very rare. All the other guys are thankful and appreciative. But rarely do I get one after the season when a guy gets his card and calls you to thank you.

"As far as I'm concerned, he can play in one of my tournaments if he ever needs a spot. He's set for life."

Pampling most likely was not alone. Even so, it was a classy gesture worth pointing out with hopes that it gets repeated.

"It was just to thank them for helping me out," Pampling said. "They didn't have to do that. It was a simple gesture on their part, and it's not that hard to call and say, `Thanks for that.' I was just trying to do the right thing. Hopefully, I won't need the invite again."

Joe Ogilvie, who lives in Austin, Texas, added a local flavor to his gratitude.

This year he had conditional status, those between No. 126 and No. 150 on the money list, and received his share of exemptions. Ogilvie finished at No. 116. The tournament directors who gave Ogilvie a spot received goodies from Salt Lick, which he regards as the best barbecue in Texas.

"The help I got from these tournament directors ... enabled me to finish in the top 125," Ogilvie said. "Obviously, I helped myself by playing well, but they certainly helped. I'm not a star by any means. I think I'm really good in front of corporates and sponsors, but I'm not going to sell three tickets. These guys helped me, and I wanted to show my appreciation.

"That was my `thank you' note."

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BJORN IS BACK: Thomas Bjorn was No. 65 in the world, two weeks removed from winning the Qatar Masters, when he arrived in Arizona for the Match Play Championship. It was his first time at a World Golf Championship in four years. He had a chance to sneak into the top 50 and get into the WGC at Doral and perhaps get back to the Masters.

Bjorn, however, would have none of that talk.

"Those days are behind me," he said.

How wrong the great Dane turned out to be. As an alternate at the British Open, he finished fourth. A month later, Bjorn won the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles and then won again the next week in Switzerland at the European Masters.

It was his first multiple-win season, and his three titles tied him with Luke Donald for most on the European Tour this year.

Bjorn is at No. 35 in the world, eligible for at least three of the World Golf Championships next year. He also goes back to Augusta National for the first time in five years.

As for those comments in February?

"It was important to not get ahead of myself with everything," Bjorn said. "I wanted to keep working hard and keep my feet on solid ground, to do the work that enabled me to get back and play decent stuff. If I started talking myself into believing I was back, I might have just been off a little bit.

"I would never say I believed the big stuff was behind me," he said. "I just knew it was a long track for me to get into a position where it's there, and you don't have to think about it."

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ZACH'S YEAR: Before showing up for his final tournament of the year, Zach Johnson met with his team for a two-day summit to assess the season and look ahead to 2012. He failed to win for the first time since 2006, but the year didn't feel like a failure.

"We looked at the goals we had," Johnson said halfway through the Chevron World Challenge. "We have three or four specific goals, and I accomplished all of them but one. And the one I didn't, I was awfully close.

"For the most part, it was all pretty good. You'd think we would have a banner year, but we didn't," he said. "The more I chewed on it, the more I realized it was going the right way."

The next day, he shot 68 to take a one-shot lead and wound up losing to a birdie-birdie finish by Tiger Woods, which would seem to indicate he is heading in the right direction.

Even so, nothing beats holding a trophy.

"I don't think winning is the only formula for a great year," he said. "But you want to win. That's why you play."

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HAVE CLUBS, WILL PULL A TROLLEY: As long as Laura Davies has been playing tournament golf, she managed to do something new during the Indian Open earlier this month on the Ladies European Tour.

She didn't bother taking a caddie.

Davies said her caddie was having visa troubles and didn't make it to New Delhi. The English star lost patience and instead of hiring a local caddie decided to take care of it herself.

"Ended up having to pull my own trolley around, which is the first time I've done that in 26 years on tour," Davies said. "I shot 3 over the first day. He made it for the second round, but it didn't work out. I missed the cut."

Davies doesn't get flustered easily. This was an exception.

"The officials were like, `You should take a local.' But I was just irritated," Davies said. "So I just wanted to get out there, try and shoot something that wasn't going to ruin the week, and I ended up shooting 3 over and the week was over before it got started.

"These things happen, but it was a shame."

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DIVOTS: Seven players between No. 126 and No. 150 on the money list last year with conditional status finished among the top 125 to earn full cards for 2012. ... Five Americans have been picked for the Curtis Cup, which will be June 8-10 at Nairn in Scotland -- Amy Anderson, Lindy Duncan, Austin Ernst, Tiffany Lua and Brooke Pancake. The other three will be selected next month. ... There were 501 tee shots that went at least 360 yards on the PGA Tour this year.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Of the 200 hardest holes on the PGA Tour this year, only one was a par 5 -- the 14th hole at Pebble Beach was tied for 20th with an average score of 5.341.

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FINAL WORD: "It's a funny old fuddy-duddy game, but I love it. And I quite understand if people don't. But it's something very, very special, and I'm very honored to be a part of it." -- British commentator Peter Alliss, upon his selection for the World Golf Hall of Fame.

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