ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Rod Pampling has played the Arnold Palmer Invitational every year since his rookie season on the PGA Tour, and none of his five victories worldwide was more rewarding than the one in 2006 at Bay Hill and sharing that handshake with the King.
That’s one reason Pampling regrets not being invited back this year.
“I went to champions’ dinners with Arnold Palmer and he always said if you’re an exempt player, as a past champion you’ll get a spot,” Pampling said. “It was a great event to win and to have your name on that trophy. It’s disappointing not to play.”
Pampling is not alone.
Chad Campbell also did not get in. He won at Bay Hill in 2004, and even played the first two rounds with Palmer, opening with 66-68 and then meeting the King on the 18th green when he rallied from a four-shot deficit with 12 holes to play.
Tournament director Marci Doyle says Palmer, who died in September 2016, played a big role in exemptions. She says the Arnold Palmer Invitational now has a committee of five — presenting sponsor MasterCard, the tournament director, Arnold Palmer Enterprises, the Palmer family and a player representative — to sort through the long list of requests for exemptions.
“It’s literally one of the hardest parts of my job because you never have enough exemptions,” Doyle said. “So many guys are so worthy.”
Pampling said good play takes care of all issues, and he’s not upset with players who did receive them. His disappointed was rooted in comments he heard from Palmer over the years over the treatment of past champions.
The exemptions range from Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell (who served as a host last year in the first tournament without Palmer) to Curtis Luck, Stuart Appleby (runner-up to Campbell in 2004), Smylie Kaufman and Cody Gribble.
Pampling, Campbell and 57-year-old Kenny Perry are the only Bay Hill winners over the last 20 years who are not playing. That’s a little skewed because Tiger Woods is back, and he has won eight times since 2000.
“We won during the Tiger era,” Pampling said with a laugh. “He won eight bloody times. Doesn’t that make our win even more special?”
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN: Mark Carnevale has bittersweet memories at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, especially this year.
Carnevale, who now works as an on-course announcer for PGA Tour Radio, played the tour for most of the 1990s. He had met Palmer when he was just starting out on the mini-tours through a friend who was a member at Bay Hill, and Carnevale played in a few of the shootouts.
“I saw a television interview in which Arnold told this story about his dad telling him, ‘If this is what you want to do, put your mind to it and you can do it,'” Carnevale said. “That’s what kept me going in this game.”
This is the 25-year anniversary of Palmer making his last cut on the PGA Tour — at Bay Hill, no less — and Carnevale remembers it well.
It was the 1993 Nestle Invitational, and the third round was tough on most everyone. Carnevale had a pair of double bogeys and a triple bogey and shot 44 on the front nine, and then rallied for a 36 on the back for an 80.
He was looking at the scores in the trailer when he realized he likely would be playing with Palmer. That would have been the first time. It wouldn’t be the famous shootouts Palmer had with a large group at Bay Hill, rather just the two of them.
“I remember thinking, ‘What a place for me to thank him for where I am,'” Carnevale said.
But there was still golf to be played, and Andy Bean was still on the course. The bad news for Carnevale was that Bean bogeyed the 17th, which wrecked Carnevale’s dream pairing.
“Now I’m playing with Andy, and I was distraught,” Carnevale said. “The whole time I was telling him, ‘Really? How many times have you got to play with Arnold?’ That is one situation I’ll never forget. Who knew that would be his last cut?”
MASTERS BUBBLE: The Dell Technologies Match Play next week is the cutoff for cracking the top 50 in the world and earning a spot in the Masters. The good news for the 64 players not in the Masters is the World Golf Championship offers a lot of ranking points.
The bad news: Just about everyone around them in ranking is playing.
Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose have said they are not playing in Match Play, while Rickie Fowler is not expected to play for the second straight year because of scheduling (Bay Hill the week before, Houston the week after). Brooks Koepka is still out with a wrist injury, while Adam Scott said he was all but certain he would not be going to Match Play.
If that’s the case, Luke List would get the final spot, barring any other withdrawals.
Players like List, Keegan Bradley and Charles Howell would have to advance deep into Match Play to move up some 16 spots into the top 50.
More pressure could be on those players nearer to 50.
Chez Reavie went to No. 43 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in Phoenix and Pebble Beach, but he is now at No. 47. He likely would have to win his four-man group to assure staying in the top 50. Dylan Frittelli is at No. 45 and playing Bay Hill this week.
Cameron Smith is currently No. 50 and playing Bay Hill and Match Play.
TIGER MEMORIES: Adam Scott had a good look at Tiger Woods at his best. He was still an amateur when he played a practice round on the Sunday before Woods went over to Pebble Beach for the 2000 U.S. Open, and it was so pure that Scott debated whether he should even turn pro.
He understands how players who didn’t catch Woods in full flight might not understand the dominance. That made him think of a dinner last year with Martin Kaymer, who won the PGA Championship in 2010 and the U.S. Open in 2014.
“Martin Kaymer was asking, ‘How was he that much better than everyone?'” Scott said.
Kaymer is a practical thinker, and Scott said the tone was more inquisitive than skeptical. Kaymer won the 2014 U.S. Open by eight shots at Pinehurst No. 2, which allowed Scott to offer a good analogy.
“I said, ‘Listen, you have no idea. You won the U.S. Open by eight? He won by twice that many. He won by 15. So how good do you reckon you have to play to do that?'” Scott said.
DIVOTS: The LPGA Tour says its fifth major, the Evian Championship in France, will be moving from September to late July starting in 2019. The tour also said the prize money at Evian would increase to $4.1 million next year, making it the second-largest purse on the LPGA behind the U.S. Women’s Open. … The PGA Tour and SiriusXM have reached a four-year extension through 2021. … Paula Creamer makes her LPGA season debut in the Founders Cup. She has been out since September after wrist surgery.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The only time Tiger Woods missed the cut at Bay Hill was also the first time he shot 80 at a PGA Tour event. It was in 1994 when Woods was a senior in high school.
FINAL WORD: “Just two little 6-footers on 17 and 18 there and my whole world changes. But I guess that’s golf.” — Tommy Tolles, who never won on the PGA Tour and finished one shot behind Vijay Singh at the Toshiba Classic on the PGA Tour Champions.
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