PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) – The definition of a star on the PGA Tour can go beyond trophies, career money or Ryder Cup teams.
Tour officials were looking for a couple of players to be partners with two important clients during the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am two weeks ago. They settled on Ryan Palmer and Jason Bohn, two personable characters with five career wins between them.
Mike Glenn, the executive vice president of market development of FedEx, which was in the final stages of renewing its sponsorship; and Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast, which owns NBC Sports and The Golf Channel.
“I was pretty honored when the tour called me and Bohn,'' Palmer said. “I guess they knew how outgoing we'd be. They said they wanted us to play with clients, but they didn't tell us who. We got there and found out we were playing with two of the biggest check-writers in the business.''
Bohn took the unusual step of emailing their amateurs and inviting them to play a practice round on Wednesday. Teams typically don't hook up until the tournament begins Thursday, but they figured it would be time well spent instead of spending the first hour or two in competition getting to know each other.
“We had a little game with them,'' Palmer said. “We made sure we kept it small. We can't afford what they can. We had lunch in the Tap Room afterward and we hit it off.''
It got even better.
Bohn and Palmer played to grill steaks Friday night. They made a deal that if one of them shot 7-under 65, and they combined to post a 10-under par, they would splurge on a magnum of Caymus Special Selection cabernet sauvignon. They talked about it all day Friday, but they failed to get it done.
“We show up Saturday morning at Monterey Peninsula, and the bottle of Caymus is sitting between the tees on No. 1,'' Palmer said. “Brian had done it. It was in the morning, cloudy, real cool, and we get to the tee box and bam! A magnum of that Caymus. He had one of his assistants take care of it, and when we got done, he gave it to me. I'm holding it like a baby.''
Two weeks later, the tour announced a five-year extension of the FedEx Cup, although the contract was close to being completed even before the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
It was another example of why Pebble remains one of the most important events on the PGA Tour, with so many corporate heavyweights that are valuable to tour affairs. And it can lead to relationships with players, never a bad thing.
Roberts is a member at Augusta National, and Palmer said he already has arranged a game this spring with Palmer, caddie James Edmondson and New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.
THE JOURNEY: During weeks like the Match Play Championship, when Mark Wilson drives a courtesy car to The Ritz-Carlton to play for $8.5 million in prize money, it's easy for him to remember how far he came.
After reaching the semifinals last week at Dove Mountain, he talked about his early days out of North Carolina when he began his journey on the mini-tours and played for money to pay the rent. OK, that was a slight exaggeration, but only because he lived at home.
“I was living with my parents and out of my Volkswagen,'' said Wilson, who drove a 1998 Jetta. “That's life on the mini tour. I was chasing my dream. I wouldn't change my story at all. Those three or four years on the mini tour makes me appreciate more what we have out here. I remember the days of the loneliness out there and trying to find your game.''
There were not many five-star hotels. Some were lucky to have a street lamp.
“There was a place in Jacksonville, Ark.,'' Wilson said when asked about the low point in his lodging. “There were a lot of critters in the room with me and my roommate. There was certainly no ironing board – not only in the room, but at the front desk. It makes me appreciate, like I said, the Ritz-Carlton.''
Wilson won the consolation match to finish third. He earned $600,000. That pushed his career earnings to over $12.6 million. He also went to a career-high No. 24 in the world ranking.
RESHUFFLE: One big week in the desert was all John Mallinger needed to help his schedule over the next month.
Mallinger tied for second in the Humana Challenge, which wound up moving him from No. 24 to No. 1 in the priority ranking of Q-school and Nationwide Tour grads. The list is reshuffled after the West Coast Swing, and it will not be changed until after the Masters.
It's the pecking order for which players get into tournaments. Mallinger is in the Honda Classic this week, which would not have happened if he had stayed at No. 24.
Sang-Moon Bae, who lost in the quarterfinals at Match Play, went from No. 20 to No. 2.
The road to the Masters is a tough time to be getting into big tournaments, for it includes a World Golf Championship next week at Doral and the Arnold Palmer Invitational (120-man field) at Bay Hill.
Bae, of course, was among the top 50 from his success on the Japan Golf Tour last year, and was in Doral, anyway.
The biggest drop was Stephen Gangluff, who went from No. 3 in the priority ranking to No. 41 after the reshuffle. He played six times and made two cuts, finishing 77th in Phoenix and tying for 73rd in Mexico.
NO SPRINGBOARD: Winning an opposite-field event comes with a two-year exemption, though the FedEx Cup points are cut in half, and prize money is the smallest of the year.
Winning doesn't always guarantee a change in status, as the Mayakoba Golf Classic has shown.
Four of the last five champions were in Mexico last week – defending champion Johnson Wagner, Cameron Beckman, Brian Gay and Fred Funk. The exception was Mark Wilson (2009 champion), who has won three times in the last four months. Wilson finished third at the Match Play Championship in Arizona and earned $600,000 – $66,000 less than what John Huh earned for winning in Mexico.
DIVOTS: Hall of Fame member Judy Rankin lost her husband of 45 years last week when Walter “Yippy'' Rankin, a popular figure on the LPGA Tour as his wife played and later worked in television, died after a long battle with cancer. They had been married 44 years. The memorial service was Monday in Midland, Texas. … A Champions Tour player has finished in the top 10 at the Mayakoba Golf Classic the last two years. John Cook was third in 2011, and Michael Allen tied for ninth this year. … Johnson Wagner donated $12,500 to The First Tee of Greater Houston. Wagner won the Houston Open in 2008.
STAT OF THE WEEK: American-born players have won the opening nine events on the PGA Tour, the longest such streak since 1991 when the list of winners included Phil Mickelson, who was an amateur at Arizona State. Americans won the first 11 events that year, a streak that Ian Woosnam ended at New Orleans to go to No. 1 in the world.
FINAL WORD: “This is the Tiger Woods in the now time. (We) can't keep going back and comparing where he was.'' – Nick Faldo.