PGA sponsor exemptions give Jon Rahm, others chance to shine

Phoenix Open rules open the door for golf’s potential future

Brian Palm, Reporter

Arizona State University golfer Jon Rahm received one of five sponsor’s exemptions at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and made the most of his opportunity.

The amateur from Barrika, Spain finishing the tournament tied for fifth with Scottsdale resident Martin Laird who was the tournament leader on Friday and Saturday.

According to Brent Kelley, golf expert with “about sports” at, the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) allows the tournament sponsor to select up to eight participants who would have otherwise not qualified for the tournament.  This practice allows the sponsor to customize the field, within PGA recommended selection criteria, to create the maximum amount of interest for the tournament.

The charismatic Spaniard definitely generated interest for the tournament host Thunderbirds.  Dressed in Sun Devil colors and representing ASU golf at the highest level in a professional tournament demonstrates that Rahm was probably not selected by accident.

An article titled “Arizona State Junior Jon Rahm-Rodriguez Receives Sponsor Exemption To 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open” at the official WM Phoenix Open website lists his accomplishments.  He’s the third ranked amateur golfer in the world.  He also broke the tournament scoring record set by Jack Nicklaus in 1960 at the 2014 World Amateur Team Championships.

The friendly ASU junior was definitely excited about his experience following his darkness-shortened first round.

“I’ve never seen so many people in my life,”  Rahm said when speaking about the back nine of the TPC Scottsdale on an unusually busy Thursday.

His favorite moment from Thursday’s round was hitting his tee shot dressed in an ASU Pat Tillman jersey at the most notorious hole on the PGA tour, the always raucous “Sixteenth.”

“I missed the green and they booed me.”  Rahm said humbly.  But he cheerfully added, “When I teed up everybody got crazy.  That was probably my favorite moment.”

Interestingly enough, Rahm wound up playing part of a practice round with eventual tournament winner Brooks Koepka.

“On Tuesday I played the back nine with Pat Perez, Danny Lee and Jason Kokrak,”  Rahm said.  “They had to leave, so the front nine I played with Gonzalo Fdez-Castano, the other Spanish player, and Brooks Koepka.”

Rahm seemed quite comfortable in his second PGA Tournament as he played with day-one leader Daniel Berger, another sponsor exemption who performed very well.

“It definitely helps to play with someone who’s playing good,”  Rahm said.  “It pushes you to try to catch up with them.”

Bryant Buckellew is an SCC golfer and one of the sophomore leaders on this year’s team.  He supports the use of sponsor exemptions because it gives amateurs and young tour players the opportunity to play in tournaments.  If he was offered a sponsor exemption to next year’s tournament he would “raise the roof” on the sixteenth tee to fire up the fans.  Buckellew hopes to play on “the tour” someday and his dream WM Phoenix Open group would be himself, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.  One of his concerns would be not being able to accept prize money in order to preserve his amateur status.  An interesting point, considering that Rahm would have won $239,400 according to the “Final Round Notes of the 2015 WM Phoenix Open” at the WMPO Official website.

Even though SCC head golf coach Dan Dersam can’t recall a sponsor exemption being given to an SCC golfer, he contends it could do a lot of good for the program and student athlete alike.  Giving the athlete quality playing time and allowing them to see if they can play at “the next level” are two benefits he claims for the player.  Dersam feels that a sponsor’s pick would also show Artichoke competitiveness and create a “buzz” for the program that could attract outstanding players for years.