For all the flak professional golfers sometimes receive for their supposed lack of athleticism, one fact remains conveniently left out: golf is HARD. So much of the sport is dictated by feel, by precision, and by one’s understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. These are things that can’t be taught, irrespective of ability. Sure, athleticism and coordination certainly don’t hurt, but they can’t make up for the advantages afforded by hours upon hours of hard-fought skill development.
It’s difficult to quantify just how much better professional golfers are than even scratch handicaps, which is why it’s easy to take aim at sponsor’s exemptions. Suddenly, professional athletes are invited to take up spots in PGA Tour events that are usually reserved for professional golfers, even though those athletes are near-locks to finish at the bottom of the field. Fair? Or not?
On this week’s edition of GOLF’s Subpar podcast, former professional baseball pitcher Mark Mulder shared what he learned on the receiving end of a sponsor’s exemption, including why you should never feel guilty about taking one.
On Subpar, Mulder recalled the time he was given the opportunity to compete in a PGA Tour event — the 2019 Safeway Open — on a sponsor’s exemption, an experience that was eye-opening in more ways than one.
“I was terrified of making a 12, or a 15. I don’t know! It could happen,” he said. “I told people, I’ve never been so thrilled to finish third-from-last in anything in my life. “
While third-from-last was roughly on-par with his expectation going into the week, Mulder said the leaderboard was misleading.
“I played awesome, I left that going, yes!” Mulder said. “It was such a success in my part because I was so scared of it going in that when I got the invite I wanted so badly to tell the guy no.”
More than fear, Mulder didn’t want to be responsible for “taking” an opportunity from a player better (and more deserving) than him. But as he quickly learned, sponsor’s exemptions are far from a meritocracy.
“I asked a ton of Tour guys, Is this [invite] something I should do? And every single person was like, Go do it, you’ll never get another chance, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Mulder said. “Even the guy who gave me the invite he said, ‘If you think this is going to the next man up, it’s not. We are picking someone to give this to, we just happen to be picking you.’ That did make a lot of sense. You aren’t taking this from someone else.”
To watch the rest of Mulder’s Subpar interview, check out the video below.