‘Seems suspect’: Pro calls out PGA Tour Signature Event exemptions

A split image of Adam Scott and Webb Simpson.

Adam Scott and Webb Simpson are getting sponsor's exemptions next week.

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The field for next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, the PGA Tour’s fourth Signature Event, is out and some pros are noticing a trend.

Under the microscope are the $20 million event’s four sponsor exemptions, a topic of conversation for the Tour’s last two Signature Events (The Sentry did not have sponsor’s invites). For the third-straight Signature Event, Adam Scott is getting one of the coveted exemptions while Webb Simpson is getting his second after finishing T39 at Pebble Beach.

However, one pro is pointing out a commonality between the two players.

“Great players and major champions. I can’t say much because I missed the cut hard this week but getting more than one sponsor exemption into elevated events doesn’t seem fair,” Dylan Wu tweeted Saturday. “Seems like if you’re a player director, you’ll get an invite into an elevated event. Seems suspect”

Wu shot 74-75 at this week’s Cognizant Classic to miss the cut, but his point is still valid for other pros who might have been angling for an exemption. This isn’t the first time this season pros have noticed PGA Tour Policy Board members getting sponsor exemptions into the Signature Events.

Back in January, Scott, Simpson and Peter Malnati all received exemptions into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. While Scott was fairly close to being in the Top 50 of last year’s FedEx Cup standings — which would have gotten him into all of the Signature Events — and is within the top 50 players in the world, Simpson and Malnati are less in form.

Simpson is currently ranked 235th in the Official World Golf Ranking and Malnati is 226th and hasn’t made a cut outside of the no-cut AT&T Pebble Beach when he finished T14.

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CBS Analyst and GOLF’s Subpar co-host Colt Knost tweeted that one of the exemptions at Pebble should have gone to Gary Woodland, who is making a comeback — and playing wellafter brain surgery last September. Woodland got an exemption into the Genesis Invitational last month but did not get another for Bay Hill.

Will Zalatoris, Maverick McNealy and Tiger Woods are the only other three players to get sponsors exemptions into Signature Events this year. Non-PGA Tour member Chase Johnson also got the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption into the Genesis, which is considered a “host exemption” by the PGA Tour.

The other two sponsor’s exemptions this week are going to Nicolai Hojgaard and Shane Lowry, who held the lead at PGA National mid-way through the third round. If Lowry were to win in Palm Beach Gardens, he would qualify for Bay via the Aon Swing 5, opening up the sponsor’s invite for another player. However, it would also bump another player out of the Aon Top 5 who would have otherwise qualified.

Many proponents of the PGA Tour’s new Signature Event model claim the system rewards golfers playing well through the Aon Swing 5 and Aon Next 10 — the top 10 players in the FedEx Cup standings who are not otherwise qualified for Signature Events, but some players have still struggled to understand how to qualify for them.

Wu added in a follow-up tweet, “Sponsor exemptions going to the same players every elevated event doesn’t seem to follow the ‘play better’ saying. Seems like ‘be more famous’ or ‘know the right people.'”

Players ranked ahead of Scott and Simpson in this year’s FedEx Cup standings include Austin Eckroat and last week’s runner-up Sami Valimaki. Stephan Jaeger, who was runner-up at the Farmers Insurance Open, has played in just one Signature Event, but both he and Valimaki are projected to qualify for Bay Hill via the Swing 5.

Jack Hirsh

Golf.com Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is a 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and recently returned to the program to serve as head coach. Jack also still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as a Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at jack.hirsh@golf.com.