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.