This week, the sponsors of the upcoming PGA Tour event, the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, Calif., notified past champion David Duval to cancel any travel plans he had made for a trip out to the Southern California desert.
In 1999, Duval made golf history when he shot a 59 to win the event. Prior to that year, all past champions were offered lifetime exemptions. But in 1999, the sponsors of the tournament changed the policy to offer just a 10-year exemption for winners. Duval assumed that the sponsor’s exemption for past champions would still be honored — that he had a essentially earned a lifetime exemption into the event. But he was wrong.
Duval (@David59Duval) tweeted:
“So it’s official. I will not get a spot at the Humana. I guess having the defining moment in the history (of) the event doesn’t matter.”
Yes, the casual viewer of the PGA tour knows that Duval has fallen on hard times after series of injuries. He has essentially lost his mojo after being the No. 1 golfer in the world, making just 53 cuts out of 169 starts since 2005.
But Duval is still a professional, and would never do anything to either embarrass himself or the PGA Tour, so there is no doubt he would only enter if he believed he could compete. And he proved that he still can, as recently as the 2009 U.S. Open, where he was part of a group that finished tied for second behind Lucas Glover.
Duval wasn’t wrong to expect that a sponsor’s exemption for a past champion should be offered to him. This should be especially true for an event where he had made history (there is even a plaque on the 18th hole of the PGA Nicklaus course honoring Duval’s famous eagle that broke 60 for just the third time in a PGA event). Duval is a current, professional golfer who still relies on the sport for his livelihood and is trying to earn his full-time status back. Heck, if exemptions for past champions are good enough for the Masters, it should be good enough for the Humana!
It’s interesting to note that the Humana Challenge is a tournament that is struggling with this very issue. This isn’t the first time there has been a dust-up regarding the sponsor’s exemption for this tournament. Two years ago, John Daly was lobbying for an exemption to play in the event. When he learned that they decided to pass on him, he said that he would never again play in the Bob Hope Classic (or the Phoenix Open who also passed on him). The Humana Challenge has struggled to attract top tier talent over the past decade and continues to struggle to attract many of the world-class PGA tour pros. It took urgings from President Clinton himself last year to convince Phil Mickelson to come back to the event after Mickelson famously pulled the event off of his calendar, as he considered it unplayable following a wind-blown 78 he shot at the Classic Club in 2007, which is located in the windiest part of the California desert.
The event subsequently moved to the calmer area of La Quinta in order to be sheltered from the winds, only to see the tournament blown out again last year when the scoreboard was thrown into a lake by violent winds. Some spectators were trapped and injured in port-a-potties and tournament tents that were blown flat to the ground.
Mr. Duval has a valid complaint that the tournament did not offer him an exemption in the manner they did, especially to a past champion that shot a historic score at their event just 14 years ago. At the very least, they could have, and should have, offered him one of the sponsor’s exemptions as the classy and appropriate move to acknowledge his past success in the event, while also building some goodwill public relations with other pros who are leery about adding the event to the calendars. This incident will do nothing to broaden their appeal.
The Humana had better watch out: with actions such as this, they run the real risk of alienating more and more pros who could turn this into a real fiasco if they all decided that the week of the Humana Challenge is a good time for them to rest.