PGA Tour players call collusion, bull**** on AT&T Pebble Beach sponsor exemptions

Eighty players will tee it up at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week, making it the smallest, yet strongest field in tournament history.

Ten of the top 11 players in the world will compete for a $20 million purse. The winner will receive not only $3.6 million but also 700 FedEx Cup points.

This elusive field includes the top 50 finishers from last year’s FedEx Cup standings, those who finished between 51st and 60th during the FedEx Cup Fall, the top player from the Race to Dubai standings not otherwise exempt—Nicolai Højgaard, and players inside the top 30 of the Official World Golf Rankings not otherwise exempt.

Justin Thomas received an invite this week, thanks to that last stipulation.

It also includes five players from the Aon Swing 5, a new category implemented for the 2024 season. This consists of the top five FedExCup points earners from the last three Full-Field Events: the Sony Open in Hawaii, The American Express, and the Farmers Insurance Open, who are not otherwise exempt.

Adam Scott, PGA Tour, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Adam Scott during the Wednesday Pro-Am ahead of the 2024 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Matthieu Pavon, Grayson Murray, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Kevin Yu, and Stephan Jaeger comprise the initial Aon Swing 5 and thus gained entry into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Yet, four other players received invitations to Pebble Beach through sponsor exemptions: Peter Malnati, Maverick McNealy, Webb Simpson, and Adam Scott.

All four players serve as Player Directors on the PGA Tour Policy Board. They have had to help guide the tour through negotiations with the Strategic Sports Group (SSG) and the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) over the past few months.

But the reality is that three of these four players have no business being in this elevated tournament.

Hence, some players have expressed anger about Malnati’s, McNealy’s, and Simpson’s inclusion this week.

“It seems like collusion, a political game that should never happen on Tour,” one veteran player said to Golfweek. “It’s very shady if you ask me.”

Added another to Golfweek: “It doesn’t pass the smell test. The cool thing about sports is it used to be the outlet where everything was determined on the field or court. Golf has always been the ultimate meritocracy.”

Of the four players who received sponsor exemptions, only Scott is ranked within the top 100 of the Official World Golf Rankings. The 2013 Masters champion is currently ranked 51st in the world, and recorded five top-10s a season ago.

PGA Tour, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

The famous 7th green at Pebble Beach.
Photo by Tracy Wilcox/PGA Tour via Getty Images

Scott missed out on the 2023 FedEx Cup playoffs not because he played poorly, but because he did not play enough. He made 15-of-17 cuts on tour last year. In recent years, the 43-year-old Aussie has prioritized playing around the world instead of playing solely on the PGA Tour.

Meanwhile, the other three players do not come close to sniffing the top 100.

McNealy is currently 197th in the world, while Simpson and Malnati are 225th and 249th, respectively.

Sure, Simpson won the 2013 U.S. Open, and used to be a top-5 player in the world, but his play has declined in recent years. His recent results do not warrant a spot within a prestigious field such Pebble Beach this week, where some players ranked within the top 100 do not have the opportunity to play.

But on the flip side, the PGA Tour and tournament organizers at Pebble Beach are perhaps rewarding these Player Directors for their hard work, time, and dedication during this hostile period within the sport.

Indeed, that is a nice gesture, but golf has no place for politicking, and other players have sniffed that out.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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