For the second time in 18 months, Ian Poulter was spared at the last minute from losing his tour membership. And both times, it was an American to the rescue.
Go back to late October in 2015 when Poulter was bumped out of the HSBC Champions at the last minute and there were no tournaments left for him to fulfill his minimum requirement to keep European Tour membership, which he needed to be eligible for the Ryder Cup.
Rich Beem bailed him out by giving Poulter his sponsor exemption to the Hong Kong Open.
Poulter wound up missing the Ryder Cup because of a foot injury that cost him five months, and that injury ultimately led to his second lifeline. He had 10 tournaments on a major medical extension to make enough money (or FedEx Cup points) to secure his full PGA Tour card for the rest of the season. He appeared to come up short in his last event, when he missed the cut in the Valero Texas Open.
Then, it was Brian Gay to the rescue. Gay also was playing under a major medical extension (back) and made it with room to spare with a tie for sixth at Hilton Head and the Texas Open, and he figured that would be more than enough money ($626,195) for him to get into The Players Championship.
But when the tour told Gay he was 28 FedEx Cup points short of qualifying for The Players, he started investigating. Gay remembered that the tour changed its points distribution this year to reflect the breakdown of awarding money. The tour had deemed that too many points were awarded lower down the leaderboard, particularly in the range of 30th to 50th places.
However, because Gay (and Poulter) suffered their injuries before the changes, Gay argued that the old points distribution should have applied. He asked his wife if the previous year’s player handbook was around. She found it and Gay started applying the math.
“I immediately found 30 points and thought, ‘OK, now we’re getting somewhere.’ And that point, I thought I had to bring that up,” Gay said.
He called Andy Pazder, the tour’s chief of operations, and the tour agreed that a major medical extension was essentially about allowing a player the chance to keep his card if he had not been injured. After a quick review, the tour made the change and not just for Gay, but any player affected by it.
“He called me and mentioned Ian,” Gay said. “And I thought: ‘I just got Ian his tour card back.’ For me, it was just about getting in The Players. For Ian, it was about getting his status back.”
Gay said he sent Poulter a text that said: “How happy are you?” He said Poulter replied with: “I friggin’ love you.” It was followed by three red hearts.
“He had no idea,” Gay said.
Poulter also is eligible for The Players Championship.
Meanwhile, the PGA Tour experimented with virtual reality at the Genesis Open, and now it’s ready for another big test at The Players Championship. Fans will be able to watch the island-green 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass through live 360 video and virtual reality all four rounds next week. The live VR can be viewed on Samsung Gear VR headsets through the “PGA TOUR VR Live” app on the Oculus store. Fans who don’t have headsets can see the 360 video stream on Twitter and Periscope. There will be three VR camera positions: One on the 17th tee, one on the walkway from the tee to the green, and one mounted in the water next to the island green.
Rich Anderson, the tour’s chief media officer, said the tour liked the quality of live VR technology at Riviera for the Genesis Open and said it was worth doing the same at one of the most infamous par 3s in golf. It will be the first time Twitter distributes live 360 video during a major sporting event.
Lee Westwood took last week off and moved up three spots to No 50 in the world ranking, making him eligible for The Players Championship.
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