Pros’ outrage over Steph Curry getting a sponsor exemption is outrageous

The Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic is giving Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry a sponsor exemption to compete in the tournament.

Curry, a 2.2 handicap, will undoubtedly fail to break 90. He will, however, give ticket sales a bump and rev up the pre-tournament publicity machine.

Nevertheless, this news isn’t sitting well with many professional golfers, who feel exemptions should, at the very least, go to…professional golfers.

Let’s talk about the theory and practice of the sponsor exemption. In theory, it’s pretty simple. A tournament sponsor can give a variable number of spots to whoever it chooses to.

In practice, the invites usually go to players with some level of starpower or local resonance not otherwise in the field. Occasionally (most recently on the LPGA Tour) the awarding of an exemption to an “undeserving” player generates controversy.

But here’s the thing. There are no truly “deserving” players. And the history of tournament sponsor exemptions certainly reveals players who had no prayer of making the cut or contending for the tournament.

One of the probably thousands of examples: Keith Clearwater doesn’t even play professional golf anymore. He won at Colonial in the 80s. The club and locals love him. He gets an exemption every year and misses the cut every year. This is what a sponsor exemption is. It’s a corporate favor. It’s a marketing tool. It has nothing to do with who “deserves” it.

Of course, giving an exemption to the “most deserving” player would be easier. You’d assume the “most deserving” player was the best player in the world not in the field and you’d offer him an exemption. Or, if you’re looking for the “most deserving” player for, say, a Web.com Tour event, you’d invite the top earner on the money list not in the field.

Pros love to piss and moan about undeserving exemptions and “taking money out a pros’ pocket.” But it’s all a red herring. The sponsor exemption ought to be thought of as part of the tournament marketing budget. And in this particular case, Steph Curry’s exemption is generating a great deal of interest for the event, which will, on the contrary, put money IN pros’ pockets down the road.