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Cup teams no longer worth an exemption

Trevor Immelman came within a 10-foot putt of winning the Wachovia Championship, a tournament he might not have been able to play except for a Presidents Cup perk that no longer exists.

The PGA Tour began offering a two-year exemption in 2004 to anyone on the previous Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup teams, provided they had some degree of tour membership.

More times than not, anyone good enough to make either team had no trouble keeping his card, although there were exceptions. Paul Azinger was picked in 2001 to play in a Ryder Cup that was rescheduled to 2002, and he was able to play in 2004 on that exemption after finishing 169th on the money list.

But what really infuriated players was the case of Immelman.

He tied for 17th in the PGA Championship to earn just enough money for special temporary membership. Later that day, Gary Player made him as a captain's pick for the International team, even though Immelman was 22nd in the standings.

It smacked of preferential treatment, not only because Player and Immelman are South Africans, but because Immelman's father is commissioner of the Sunshine Tour in South Africa. And just like that, he was exempt for two years on the PGA Tour.

"I think it's more important to win a golf tournament for a two-year exemption than it is to make one of those teams to get the exemption, or even theoretically be a captain's pick," Jim Furyk said after his playoff victory at Quail Hollow.

Furyk wasn't alone in his complaints.

The criticism was so strong that the tour's policy board rescinded the exemption in May last year. Because it was in the middle of Presidents Cup qualifying, the perk wasn't taken off the books until this year. That means the exemption is effective this year for Ryder Cup players, and through 2007 for Presidents Cup players.

Nick O'Hern of Australia also has a two-year exemption, although he earned his spot on the International team. Tim Clark of South Africa finished 21st on the money list last year and already has earned $1.4 million this year, so he didn't need the exemption.

But it also has helped some Americans.

Jay Haas, 52, is splitting time on the PGA and Champions Tour this year. He only has his PGA Tour card because Hal Sutton picked him for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2004. Chris Riley finished 184th on the money list last year, but kept his card by making the '04 team.

 

 




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