I've always wanted to play in Arnold Palmer's tournament, the
Bay Hill Invitational. After eight years on the PGA Tour, Bay
Hill is the only event, besides the Masters, that I haven't
played. You have to finish among the top 70 on the previous
year's money list, or be among the current year's top 70 after
Doral, to get invited, but I obviously hadn't played well enough.
I introduced myself to Mr. Palmer two years ago at the Bob Hope
Classic and asked him to sign a poster for a charity tournament.
While he graciously signed, he asked, "P.H., are you going to
play in my tournament?" I said, "No, I'm not eligible, Mr.
Palmer. I finished too low on the ['96] money list." He said,
"Well, write me a letter." I didn't because I felt that I
definitely didn't deserve a sponsor's exemption and I've always
been determined to play my way in.
Last year, I almost did. A triple bogey on the 18th hole on
Sunday at Doral dropped me from fifth to 15th place and cost me
about $40,000. Even if I had made a double there, I would have
earned enough to make the top 70 and get an invitation.
So this year I thought, What the heck? I wrote Mr. Palmer and
asked for a sponsor's exemption. I told him about my mistake
last year at Doral and how disappointed I was about not getting
to play in his tournament. Meanwhile, I didn't give up on
playing my way in. Two weeks ago at Doral I had another good
tournament, and this time I didn't mess up the 18th on Sunday. I
tied for eighth, won $90,000 and moved up to 68th on the money
list just in time to meet Bay Hill's top 70 deadline. I'm in!
The irony is the next day I received a letter from the Bay Hill
tournament office declining my request for a sponsor's
exemption. I was actually kind of happy that I didn't get an
exemption after all. I've learned two things from all this. One,
sometimes it hurts to ask, but two, it never hurts to play better.
P.H. Horgan III tied for 46th at last week's Honda Classic.
COLOR PHOTO: WINSLOW TOWNSON