Stefani regains exempt status, pays it forward

Shawn Stefani during the PGA Tour's 2014 Shell Houston Open.

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Awarding sponsor exemptions is a borderline impossible task given how many quality players are seeking them. Unfortunately, tournament directors receive far too much scrutiny, especially because the critics rarely know all the reasons that go into the picks.

So it’s always nice to highlight the picks that deserve special praise. Go back a few weeks to when Steve Timms, tournament director of the Shell Houston Open, assigned one of his exemptions to Shawn Stefani. A local kid who had come up through the junior ranks within the Houston Golf Association, Stefani, 32, was on a minor medical extension, given two tournaments in which to earn $84,084.

When he missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, Stefani had to be prudent with his last chance. He thought of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am “but I didn’t want to be at the mercy of bad elements.” The Puerto Rico Open wasn’t a full purse. But when Timms called, Stefani seized the opportunity.

“Steve is a great guy and I appreciated the chance,” Stefani said.

• See all of Jim McCabe's PGA Tour notes this week right here.

When he rose to the occasion and finished fifth to earn $256,000, Stefani regained full-exempt status. That offered great relief, but what he took pride in was succeeding as a sponsor’s exemption.

“I know these things don’t come cheap,” he said. “You don’t want to get a sponsor exemption and go miss the cut, then get another one and miss the cut, then get another one and miss the cut. So playing well as a sponsor exemption meant more to me than getting my card back because Steve gave me the opportunity. He’s been nothing but good to me.”

What makes the story even sweeter is the fact Stefani didn’t just take the spot and run. He established a scholarship to go to a HGA junior golfer who plans to play competitively in college.

“I always told myself that if I’m in position to give back to the kids, I want to,” Stefani said “They’re the future of whole world. If you do good things for them, they’ll do good things for the world.”

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