Defending Rickie Fowler’s PGA Championship Exemption

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - MARCH 05: Rickie Fowler of the United States waits with caddie Joe Skovron on the 15th tee during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 05, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FLORIDA - MARCH 05: Rickie Fowler of the United States waits with caddie Joe Skovron on the 15th tee during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 05, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Social media blew up and a few writers went wild after the announcement that Rickie Fowler had been extended a special exemption for the 2021 PGA Championship. Social media, which focused on Fowler’s current game, clearly has not read up on the actual the qualifications for the tournament and is not aware of the categories for invitees. The writers should know better. Those who wish to “golf shame” Fowler, need to study up on who is actually allowed to play in the PGA Championship.

In addition, “haters” just don’t get it when it comes to what could be called Fowler’s Following, Fowler’s Flock, Fowler’s Prowlers or whatever name you wish to give to his huge collection of real-life and social media fans.

As far as who can participate in the PGA Championship, at the top of the list is Past Champions. That could include:
Rich Beem, Keegan Bradley, John Daly, Jason Day, Jason Dufner, Padraig Harrington, Martin Kaymer, Brooks Koepka, Davis Love III, Rory McIlroy, Shaun Micheel, Phil Mickelson, Collin Morikawa, Vijay Singh, Justin Thomas, Y.E. Yang, Jimmy Walker.

There are also other, older, past champs who could enter if they wanted to. They are:
Paul Azinger, Mark Brooks, Jack Burke, Jr., Steve Elkington, Dow Finsterwald, Raymond Floyd, Al Geiberger, Wayne Grady, David Graham, Don January, Larry Nelson, Bobby Nichols, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Nick Price, Jeff Sluman, Dave Stockton, Hal Sutton, David Toms, Lee Trevino, Bob Tway and Lanny Wadkins.

Most likely none of them will enter, but before casting aspersions on Rickie Fowler’s ability to compete at the PGA, it’s important to ask yourself, could he beat those older guys? Probably, although David Toms, who is active on the PGA Tour Champions, can still go low from time to time.

Next in the list of invitees are the top 20 from the PGA Club Professional Championship which was completed this week and won by former PGA Tour Player Omar Uresti who has played on the PGA Tour Champions circuit.

Others qualifying at the Club Pro include: Frank Bensel, Jr., Ben Cook, Larkin Gross, Ben Polland, Stuart Smith, Alex Beach, Daniel Balin, Brett Walker, Tyler Collet, Peter Ballo, Joe Summerhays, Derek Holmes, Brad Marek, Rob Labritz, Tim Pearce, Mark Geddes, Patrick Rada, Greg Koch, Sonny Skinner and Cody Haughton.

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Now, after those two categories, it’s the top 70 in what are called PGA Points. They are gathered from the 2020 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational/Barracuda Championship through the 2021 Wells Fargo Championship, which is next week.

No one explains exactly what those points are based on, but Dustin Johnson is leading in them, and Justin Thomas is second.

Then, next in line are those who were on the 2018 Ryder Cup teams, which means from both the U.S. and Europe. Fowler was on that team. So he’s an automatic according to the PGA’s own standards.

Following the most recent Ryder Cuppers are special exemptions, which can be anything, and this year includes Rickie Fowler if you don’t consider him qualified by being on the Ryder Cup in 2018.

Technically, in special exemptions, the PGA could invite Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.  Believe me, both would need every bit of magic they have to get around the Kiawah Island Ocean Course in anything close to bogey golf.

Finally, the PGA can invite players beyond the top 70 in their PGA points to complete the field of 156 players.

Invitations are subject to the wishes of the PGA of America. Period.

Now, here’s where the fact that, by all accounts, Fowler is a fine human being probably swings the scale even farther in Fowler’s direction. Fowler as well as Rory McIlroy, Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie West, golf-crazy NBA star Steph Curry and soccer star Alex Morgan are all brand ambassadors for PGA Junior League golf, which is team golf for youngsters 17 and under, no matter what their skill level.

Fowler was early to back this program because he thought it was important to encourage youngsters to play golf. And kids love him. They follow him around golf courses. When he was wearing all orange on Sundays, you would see lots of little “Rickies” all over the place dressed in orange.

Neither Fowler nor any of the athletes who support PGA Junior League golf are paid for lending their names to that program. They do it because they know they can encourage youngsters to participate and they all love golf so much, they want more people to love it, too.

Now, let’s talk about what Forbes calls the bankable nature of Fowler. A ton of people make fun of him for all the commercials he’s done. Farmers Insurance comes to mind.

Who can forget Fowler playing the crowd noise after sinking a putt on a practice green?

Or how about the Grant Thornton one, where the obnoxious guy asks to play through.

Or the one where Fowler plays putt-putt golf for Rocket Mortgage.

Or the Mercedes Benz commercial about the Masters where he finished second.

According to a story for Golf Digest, Ireland, Fowler spends about a month’s worth of days each year doing commercial shoots, and that may not count what he does for his clothing and equipment sponsors.

One reason he is in demand is that people like Fowler without even knowing him. And if you are a company or organization, or even a golf tournament, like the PGA Championship, you want to associate yourself with someone who is and certainly behaves like one of the “good guys.”

From the standpoint of the PGA, if some of his sponsors just happen to drop a few commercials into their golf tournament telecast, well, so much the better. If more people tune in to watch the tournament for a few hours because Fowler is playing, it’s a big win-win for everybody.

In other words, there are millions of reasons for inviting Rickie Fowler to participate in the PGA, even if he already qualified by being on the 2018 Ryder Cup team.  As Forbes said, Fowler is bankable for a lot of reasons. And who wants to run away from that?

And who wants to run away from that?