When you win the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the big prize is an audience with the man himself. The exorbitant check – this year being $1,116,000 – that comes with it is due in large part to the man who has spent the majority of his 84 years building the PGA Tour into what it is.
So an inquiring mind can’t be blamed for wondering: What would have happened had Matt Every, after making the recent API his first win, thanked Palmer, then said: “Oh, and by the way, I’m withdrawing from next week’s tournament. You OK with that?”
Here’s a guess Palmer might have snatched back the check and put one of his massive hands around the back of Every’s neck and said, “Young man, learn to do the right thing.”
To many, the right thing would have been for Every to honor his commitment to the Valero Texas Open. But Every, 30, elected to withdraw. For good measure, he also withdrew from this week’s Shell Houston Open, and while Matt Kuchar and Pat Perez were colleagues who said they weren’t offended by Every’s move, it just seems wrong.
Sure, Every had just earned his first berth into the Masters and naturally wants to be prepared. Play Valero, your third straight tournament, then call in your regrets for Houston and go to Augusta National to practice. The game is bigger than any one player. At some point, how about remembering you’re a professional? How about acknowledging the sponsors, who make those courtesy cars and massive checks possible? (A little history is needed here; in 2012, Every earned a $545,600 check for placing second at the Valero. Talk about gratitude.)
Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens more and more frequently. Patrick Reed, for instance, got a sponsor exemption into the Valero two years ago, but was not in attendance this year. It was a topic of conversation with Peter Jacobsen after he stopped by to say hello to Jim Furyk and he just shook his head.
Jacobsen agreed that a guy like Furyk wouldn’t do such a thing, that it’s the younger guys who seem not to get it.
“When I broke in, I had one leg in Arnold’s generation,” said Jacobsen, “and when Jim broke in, he had one leg in my generation. But with every generation we get further removed.”
Would playing Valero have hindered Every’s Masters preparation? Perhaps. But it would have enhanced his character.
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CHECK THE DINNER GUEST LIST: As always, there’s a story behind the story. In the case of Phil Mickelson missing the pro-am at the Shell Houston Open, for instance, well, no need to point fingers and make a case out of it.
It’s the way the sponsors want it. In fact, it’s the way they had it last year, too. And another time before that.
Sponsors reserve the right “to shift a player out of the pro-am for another sponsor function,” said a tournament director and that’s the case with Mickelson at Houston. Shell officials have found great value in hosting Lefty at a dinner and that’s why he’s not playing in this year’s pro-am. It has nothing to do with special treatment outside the rules.
Various players at other tournaments have been treated similarly, so it’s hardly a story.
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DURANT FIVE-O: After he mentioned that he was waiting to see if he got a spot into the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island, Joe Durant was asked if he’d heard that Tom Watson and Nick Faldo had been awarded sponsor’s exemptions.
Durant smiled. “Just got knocked down two more spots,” he laughed.
He could afford such levity, because on the eve of his 50th birthday (April 7), Durant knows he has options, and good ones. Should he not receive a spot into the tournament at Harbour Town, Durant will tee it up at the Champions Tour stop that week, the Greater Gwinnett Championship at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga.
Ah, the perks of reaching 50 in pro golf. Double the options, for some.
“It’s good, it’s all good,” said Durant, who played in his first PGA Tour tournament in 1987. He broke onto the Tour in ’93 and has carried himself with great character ever since. A consummate professional, Durant has played in 437 tournaments with nary a complaint. But while he’s riding a wave of five straight missed cuts this season, that doesn’t mean he’s in a rush to switch tours.
“There is always that part of your ego that thinks you can still compete out here,” said Durant, “and you don’t want to let go of that.”
In Durant’s rookie season, Nick Price topped the money list with $1,478,557. In Durant’s most recent tournament, the Valero Texas Open, Steven Bowditch won a $1,116,000 check. Talk about a sweeping change of scenery in his 20 years, but Durant takes great pride in having been part of it. After a few lackluster years on the old Ben Hogan Tour, Durant got his license to sell insurance and worked in the golf equipment business, only to give the PGA Tour another shot.
He stuck in 1993, won a tournament three years later, and in 2001 he won twice in three weeks, going a whopping 54-under for his combined nine rounds at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and Genuity Championship at Doral. By this point in his career, Durant was watching the unfolding of the Tiger Woods phenomenon, so clearly he’s been around to get a wide view of perspective.
“It goes in both directions,” he said. “At one point, I’m amazed that I’ve done what I’ve done, but in other ways I’m kind of disappointed. I know how good I’ve been at times, I guess, and if you try and base your entire career on when you play your best, that’s like beating your head against the wall.”
It’s been a demanding challenge to win in this era of Woods and Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, but it’s been overwhelmingly positive.
“Just having been out here as long as I have, the friends I’ve made over the years, to take care of my family: That’s been the most rewarding (aspects).
“It’s been a pretty good gig.”
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DUAL CITIZENSHIP: Jeff Maggert is one who could offer testimony to Durant that Champions Tour life is OK. The PGA Tour veteran won his debut on the older circuit, holding off another rookie, Billy Andrade, in Mississippi. Yet Maggert, like Durant and so many others, concedes it’s tough letting go of the PGA Tour, so there he was one week later playing against the younger guys in the Valero Texas Open.
“I’ll probably play 60 percent (PGA Tour) and 40 percent out there (Champions Tour) the rest of the way,” said Maggert. “But we’ll see how I play. It might flip-flop.”
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HE’LL STAY IN GEORGIA: While on the topic of Champions Tour rookies, one week after he makes his 15th Masters appearance, the engaging Miguel Angel Jimenez will travel a short distance from Augusta National and make his Champions Tour debut at TPC Sugarloaf.
Wine and cigars for all.
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IT’S A MINDSET: You might look at the stats. Jim Furyk searches within.
For form, that is. It’s a popular topic of conversation when a major approaches, especially with folks who love to try and predict who’ll win or be in contention. The only thing is, ask 10 players what “being on form” means and you might get nine different answers.
Zach Johnson thinks prognosticators shouldn’t get too carried away. “You’re going to see a name or two on the leaderboard early at Augusta, even into the weekend, and you’re going to say, ‘Why hasn’t his name been on the leaderboard as much?’ “
To Furyk, “it’s confidence,” not numbers.
“Statistics bother me, at times,” said Furyk. “If I’m standing at a tee box and I think I can put it in the fairway and I know I’m going to put it in the fairway, then I feel like I’m driving the ball well and I don’t care what the statistics say.
“If I hit eight out of 10 fairways, but I’m standing on the tee nervous about getting the ball in the fairway, I don’t care what the stats say then I don’t think I’m prepared.”
Which is to be off form.
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TRENDING? Geoff Ogilvy echoes Furyk’s sentiments when it comes to stats. He knows there’s a place for them, but by and large the Aussie doesn’t pore over them. Instead, he trusts his feel and how he’s reacting on the course to various challenges.
In his case, five missed-cuts in seven starts would not have had you lobbying on his behalf into the Valero Texas Open. But Ogilvy felt differently and had faith in his game. That confidence was rewarded when the 36-year-old went 69-69 after an opening 74 at TPC San Antonio. A closing 73 in brutally tough conditions enabled Ogilvy to finish joint 11th, his best finish since being second at the 2013 Honda.
Entered into the field at this week’s Shell Houston Open, Ogilvy said, “It would be a surprise if I went out and won by eight. But it wouldn’t be surprise me if I contended, because I’m playing well enough.”
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PASSION THERE, SHORT GAME ISN’T: Having turned 47, David Toms knows when scratchy play enters the picture there is an underlying sentiment that the passion has wanted.
Not true in his case, he said.
“I’ve enjoyed playing (the last year). I enjoy it more when I play to a higher level, though.”
Toms has missed the cut in five of his eight starts; his lone solid effort was a T-4 in Puerto Rico, a tournament the veteran thinks he should have won.
“My short game hasn’t been very good for a year and a half,” said Toms, who was 20th in FedEx Cup points in 2011 but fell to 95th a year later and 138th last season. “When you get to golf courses like this (TPC San Antonio), you’re going to miss some shots, even though I have been hitting the ball pretty well.
“But you have to capitalize, because you’re not going to have many opportunities on these tough golf courses. I’m just not capitalizing at all. That’s really been the difference. It isn’t that I haven’t wanted to play.”
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THE SON SHINES: In this winter of the deepest of deep freezes, you take any chance to get out of the snow and cold. Even if it means lugging dad’s golf bag.
“I don’t mind it, but it’s more fun when he’s playing well,” said Ryan Ames, 14, with a smile. It was spring break from school back in Calgary and the young man jumped at the chance to caddie for Stephen Ames at the Valero Texas Open. He had done it once before, at last year’s Canadian Open, so he knew his father’s opening 2-over 74 needed improvement. It did get better, too, rounds of 71-68-74 giving Ames his best finish of the season, a share of 16th.
All in all, a happy week for Team Ames, even if the Texas heat was a tough adjustment.
“I’m sweating buckets,” said Ryan.