That Jordan Spieth kid is so lucky.
I'm kidding. Not since Tiger Woods has anyone played his way onto the PGA Tour as quickly and as impressively as Spieth, a 19-year-old former U.S. Junior Amateur champ from the Dallas area.
Spieth, who left the University of Texas after one season, proves that the PGA Tour isn't a closed shop to the exceptionally talented. When Woods used sponsor's exemptions in the fall of 1996 en route to his breakthrough win in Las Vegas, players could still get to The Show via the traditional Q-school route. This year, that road is closed. The Q-schoolers now play for spots on the second-tier Web.com Tour.
The key to Spieth's success that led to his win at the John Deere Classic was playing well right away when he got the chance. A number of college players turned pro early last fall to take a crack at the last real Q-school. None have cashed in the way Spieth did.
He was flooded with offers of sponsor's exemptions, as a name college player who'd built a reputation with two good showings in the Byron Nelson Championship as an amateur. Spieth used those exemptions to earn enough money to gain temporary member status on the PGA Tour, which allowed him to receive unlimited exemptions.
Non-members are permitted up to seven exemptions, the number already taken by another would-be star, Patrick Cantlay of UCLA. Cantlay made only two cuts, however, even though one of them turned into a ninth-place finish at Pebble Beach. A top-10 finish earns a player a spot in the field for the next open tournament. Unlike Spieth, Cantlay didn't play well enough to gain unlimited exemptions.
Spieth got nine exemptions and made seven cuts, a superlative effort. He missed the cut in his first event at Torrey Pines, then finished 22nd at Pebble Beach and second in Puerto Rico. He placed ninth via exemption at Harbour Town and was off and running. The John Deere win pushed Spieth just over the $2 million mark. He won $796,546 of that from tournaments that gave him exemptions.
Spieth currently leads the Exemption Derby, as I call it, with nine exemptions. He may get passed by Camilo Villegas, who has received seven and is likely to score a few more in the next month.
Cantlay finished with his maximum of seven. John Daly had six but says he's going to have elbow surgery so he's probably done for the season. David Duval has five (but hasn't made a cut), followed by Shane Lowry, amateur Guan Tianlang of China, Bobby Gates and Luke List. Villegas has made the second-most cuts with four. Peter Tomasulo and George Coetzee are both three-for-three.
Spieth easily leads the exemption money list. Robert Karlsson is second with $328,280, or less than half of Spieth's haul in the events that granted him exemptions. Gates and Villegas are next in line.
Vaughn Taylor leads all Monday qualifiers with $196,366 won in two successful Monday qualifying attempts. Zack Fischer has won only $13,601 but has qualified three times on Monday this year.
No tournament's sponsor's exemptions have performed worse than the Greenbrier's. It handed out eight exemptions and none of those players played the weekend. The John Deere and Memphis were next worst, with only one of their eight invitees making the cut.
So far, 208 sponsor's exemptions have been doled out, with 88 of those players making the cut. Mostly Spieth, it seems.
The short game: I was watching baseball on Fox Network when Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke was being interviewed in the dugout during the game. Locke, who once pitched for the Atlanta Braves, was asked what he learned from John Smoltz and the rest of that great Braves' pitching staff : "How to golf."... Phil Mickelson summed up his appeal following his up-and-down finish in his Scottish Open win: "Nobody likes a predictable movie." OK, yes, I recycled those lines from my Twitter account. Sue me... Michelle Wie, channeling the late Roger Ebert on Twitter: "Despicable Me 2 was so cute! Not as good as the first but still so cute." I'll take her word on that... Anybody else wonder why Zach Johnson didn't just chip out to the fairway, hit to the green and give himself a par putt instead of beating himself on that fifth John Deere playoff hole by trying a low-percentage shot? An atypical Zach Johnson decision, in my book... Sir Nick Faldo is climbing down from the TV tower to take one last bow around Muirfield, where he won two of his Opens. If that somehow means more air-time for Peter Alliss, I'm all for it... Canadian David Hearn after he drove it in the right rough among the trees for a third straight time on the 18th hole during the John Deere playoff: "We're going to get good at this shot eventually."
Meanwhile, this just in from the Van Cynical Mailbag:
Gary, Scott Stallings got in the British Open because Phil Mickelson won the Scottish Open. Can I get in the Sanderson Farms tournament then? -- Judd Spicer via Twitter
No, but we can get you out to Sanderson Farms. Them pigs need sloppin' agin, dangnabbit. Hoss! Little Joe! Where you boys hidin'? Van Cynical, I cleaned out my office while watching the John Deere finale and came across your Senior Waiter business card. Does SI still make you wait tables? -- Rob Hernandez via Twitter
That was a great example of why spell check doesn't get it done. Senior Writer turns into Senior Waiter. For the record, I don't wait tables for SI. Off the record, try the salmon. It's delightful!
Van Sickle, Why? -- John L. Byrwa via Twitter
That's an interesting question, John, but once again you missed the point. You should be asking Who, What and Where instead. And in some instances, Are you talkin' to me?
Gary, What about some better coverage for the LPGA? They're better looking and fun to watch.-Donald Farnsworth via Twitter
I agree with the concept, Donald, but all magazine reader surveys I've seen over the years show there is minimal interest in the ladies among readers and advertisers. It's also why they have such difficulty getting TV time. You find some sponsors to support women's golf, they'll get more events televised. I think LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is making progress. BTW, don't miss seeing the women take on the Old Course at St. Andrews in the upcoming Ricoh's Women's British Open. I hope they get a nice sea breeze off the Firth for at least one round. Now that's fun to watch.
Gary, Saw a lot of tweets from players headed to the Open. Surprised how many flew commercial. What's the breakdown?-Brad Morgan via Twitter
Hard to say, but private jetting is pretty pricy and private jetting across the pond, that's seriously big bucks. Makes the old Concorde flights at $4,000 look like a steal.
Van Sickle, Augusta, Merion, Muirfield and Oak Hill are as good as it gets. Give us your best and worst year for major venues and your dream lineup.-Chris Folds via Twitter
You're right, 2013 is a damn fine year for majors. How about 2010 with Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Whistling Straits? In 1978, we had Cherry Hills, St. Andrews and Oakmont, and in 1950, Merion, Troon and Scioto. The PGA is usually the clunker site in the majors mix. In '95, we had Shinnecock Hills, St. Andrews and Riviera, although Rivera's greens had no grass that week. The worst year was probably any that had Valhalla or Kiawah's Ocean Course. I wasn't a huge fan of 2001 with Southern Hills, Royal Lytham and Atlanta Athletic Club. Lytham is a little nondescript but I don't dislike it. My least favorite British site may be Royal Liverpool. It's hard to get to and just not that interesting but it's certainly not a bad major venue. The British has the better venues overall than the U.S. Open and PGA. My dream lineup? Pebble Beach, Turnberry and Olympic Club. I like ocean views.
GVS, Why do they make some TV golf reporters wear coats and ties, like Tom Rinaldi? It's weird, especially when he's melting.-Derek Lewis via Twitter
I guess it's that old Monday Night Football mentality, if you remember the yellow blazers with the ABC logo. I agree, the formal attire seems way out of place at a golf course. If they all wore golf shirts, they could sell logo space to sponsors and make a bundle.