Among the 147 players who teed off in the opening round of last week's Los Angeles Open was Jim Ferrier, a 63-year-old Australian who now lives in Burbank. Ferrier did not win the tournament—Gil Morgan did—nor did he survive the 36-hole cut. This surprised no one. Jim Ferrier has not made a cut since January of 1973 when he finished 74th in the Phoenix Open and he has not made a dime on the tour since January 1972 when he finished 66th in the San Diego Open and earned $214.28.
Dave Nevatt did not play in the Los Angeles Open, much as he wanted to. Nevatt is 21, a first-year pro from Merced, Calif., about 260 miles north of Burbank. Nevatt has not made a dime from golf this year either, but for a different reason than Ferrier's. He has not played in a single tournament. Three times Nevatt has missed qualifying by a single stroke.
Ferrier does not have to qualify. As the winner of the 1947 PGA championship, Ferrier enjoys a lifetime exemption. All he has to do is walk to the 1st tee on Thursday morning and fire away.
Ferrier and Nevatt do not know each other, but last week both were in the eye of golfs biggest hurricane since the war for power between the touring pros and the parent PGA 10 years ago. The 10-member PGA tour policy board recently announced it was establishing certain performance standards for 1979 that those with lifetime qualifying exemptions would have to meet. In order to retain their exemptions they would have to average $666.66 in prize money per tournament, for as many events as they chose to enter. Even this minimal criterion seems well beyond the capabilities of Ferrier and several other players in his category. So 13 of them hired Houston attorney Jack McConn, a brother-in-law of Jackie Burke Jr., one of the exempt players, and filed suit against the PGA.
"Our argument will be that when you paid your entry fee for a U.S. Open or PGA, you did so with the understanding that if you won, you collected three things," says McConn. "One was a trophy, two was the money and three was a lifetime exemption. That was, in effect, a contract, and now it is being broken."
Boiled down, the PGA defense is that for the good of the tour, some of the deadwood has to be cleared out. Commissioner Deane Beman calls the tour's performance standards part of an evolutionary process that began when the granting of lifetime exemptions was abolished in 1970. "There are standards for every other category of player," Beman says, "and we feel there should be some for players with lifetime exemptions."
Ed Sneed, one of four players on the policy board, points out that no one has been able to trace the origin of the lifetime exemption. "We searched through the archives," he says. "There is nothing in writing."
Jack Nicklaus sympathizes with the older players but at the same time understands what Beman and the board are trying to accomplish. However, many of the younger players on the tour can't understand why some of the older pros want to keep embarrassing themselves with their high tournament scores. "I recognize that they were once the backbone of the tour," says Danny Edwards. "No one wants to take anything away from them, but if they can't play anymore, it's unfair that they keep doing so just because they won one tournament once."
The legal argument eventually will be settled in Harris County ( Houston), Texas, but the ethical argument was very much on trial at the L.A. Open. Ferrier was not the only man with a lifetime exemption to show up at the Riviera Country Club. Seven of the elderly exemptees did, prompting one veteran to say, "I wish some of the guys would cool it."
Among the starters was Lionel Hebert. Lionel is Exhibit A on the PGA list. During the last two years he has played in 50 tournaments and earned only $3,208. That's $64.16 per tournament—not even caddie fees. Before Los Angeles, Hebert had played in four events this season and had missed the cut every time. The other exempt veterans who entered at Riviera were Hebert's brother Jay, Dow Finsterwald, Jack Fleck, Jerry Barber and Orville Moody. Among them they had played in 15 events, and not one had made a cut. "Heck," says Moody, who is not one of those suing the PGA, "if I was whoever thought up the new rule, I'd want me off the tour too."