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 received 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 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 FedExCup 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 HP 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.
ANOTHER U.S. OPEN: Few players are as experienced at U.S. Open qualifying than Kevin Sutherland. The 49-year-old from Sacramento, Calif., 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 (FedExCup 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.