There was a rather perplexing (and somewhat alarming) situation over Justin Leonard’s 2012 exempt status Friday afternoon. After Leonard shot a blazing nine-under 63 to take a share of the lead at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, his eligibility for the following year came into question during his press conference. Though a former Open champion and 12-time PGA Tour winner, he’s No. 144 on the 2011 money list and hasn’t won since 2008, so it was unclear to the half-dozen reporters (and Tour media officials) under which category Leonard was exempt.
When Leonard had checked in with the Tour a few months ago about his 2012 eligibility, he also found the answer peculiar, but he wasn’t about to question it, either.
“Well, I did call the TOUR a couple months ago and asked about my status,” said Leonard on Friday afternoon in his presser at Disney. “I’m exempt for next year, so I’m not playing with that kind of pressure. I don’t know how, I just am. No, I gave the same look to the telephone. How is this guy still exempt?
“So I didn’t question him very hard. I just said, Okay, if you say so. So, you know, just trying to kind of put together the things that I’ve worked on the last month. I mean, the last couple weeks I’ve played pretty well, I just haven’t gotten anything out of it.”
It was an amusing sight in the media center after Leonard’s presser, where a half dozen reporters (including several who have been covering golf for 20 years) — and Leonard himself — huddled over the 2011 PGA Tour Media Guide to try and figure out how Leonard was exempt through 2012. Leonard even called the Tour’s HQ to help solve the mystery. For a while, there was quite a bit of confusion (and panic on Leonard’s end) as we scoured the fine print in the policy and category handbooks.
Leonard captured the ’97 British Open title, which gave him a ten-year exemption — starting in ’98, it was changed to five-years for winning a major. His last win was at the 2008 Stanford St. Jude Classic. However, he is No. 10 on the all-time money list, so he has the option of taking his one-time lifetime top-25 in career earnings exemption. But he hadn’t given any indication of using it and the computer said he was exempt through 12/31/12.
Finally, the Tour provided this explanation:
“Justin Leonard is exempt as a Tournament Winner through the end of the 2012 season. Following is the breakdown that explains his eligibility:
*1997 — Wins British Open, gets him a ten-year exemption (1998-2007)
*Then in 2003, we begun compounding wins…
**2003 — Wins Honda (2008)
**2005 — Wins Hope & St. Jude (2009 & 2010)
**2007 — Wins Valero (2011)
**2008 — Wins St. Jude (2012)
*NOTE: A player who earns a multiple-year, exemption for winning the Masters, THE PLAYERS Championship, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship, TOUR Championship, an official money World Golf Championship event or two or more co-sponsored tournaments in a calendar year shall have his multiple year tournament-winner exemption extended by one year for each official victory in the subsequent calendar year(s), but in no case shall it be extended beyond five years from the current calendar year.
Got that? Okay, here’s a brief explanation — winners of majors, the Players, and the Tour Championship receive a five-year exemption, while WGC champs get a 3-year exemption. If they win a regular tour event (which usually comes with a two-year exemption) the following year(s), another year is tagged on to their previous exemption. Let’s say ’11 PGA champ Keegan Bradley, who is exempt through 2016, captures the Honda Classic next season — his exemption would be extended to 2017.
Whew! That was a close call for Leonard, who was probably entering panic mode. Just another exciting afternoon at the Fall Series!
(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)