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?"