By Peter Santo
Each tournament on the PGA Tour has a maximum of eight sponsors’ exemptions that the organizers can use at their discretion. The criteria required for these exemptions gives events plenty of wiggle room for who they can add to the field.
One or two exemptions must go to PGA Tour members who are not otherwise exempt into the field. And one or two additional exemptions must come from the 2018-19 FedEx Cup points list/2019 Korn Ferry Tour category. Other than that, organizers can give exemptions to anyone they want.
Some exemptions—like the ones given to Tony Romo at several Tour events—are used to drive fan interest for the event. Other tournaments like to reward past champions or strong local players with a spot in the field.
The Travelers Championship has typically used their exemptions to showcase some of the best young talent in the game. Their spots in the field are not limited to Tour players, as Patrick Cantlay shot 60 at TPC River Highlands as an amateur in 2011.
Just two years ago, Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff, and Viktor Hovland were given sponsors’ invites into the Travelers field. None of them cracked the top-40 that week, but Morikawa has become a major champion and both Hovland and Wolff have become Tour winners since.
The tournament has also given invitations to Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson, Ryo Ishikawa, Kyle Stanley, and Morgan Hoffmann over the years.
Travelers is continuing that tradition this week as Florida State All-American and Haskins Award winner John Pak, University of Georgia All-American Davis Thompson, and Oklahoma State All-American Austin Eckroat.
Pak, Thompson, and Eckroat were each members of the inaugural PGA Tour University class this year. Pak topped the final ranking and all three finished in the top-5 to earn exemptions into all full-field events on the Korn Ferry Tour through the end of 2021.
Eckroat spoke highly of the new PGA Tour University system, as it connects the college game to the pro game more than ever before.
“We kind of heard about it and the opportunities that you would have with it. It's an honor,” Eckroat said. “It’s incredible how they're trying to incorporate college golf into having a runway into the professional ranks. It's unheard of, but I’m very happy that I was a part of it.”
Eckroat first found out he was playing in next week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic after fellow Oklahoma State product Rickie Fowler texted him with the news. It was a big day for Eckroat, as later that day a phone call informed him that he would also be in the field at the Travelers.
“This summer, I knew I had the Korn Ferry Tour, but you don't really know exactly what starts you're going to get,” Eckroat said. “I was super excited just to get the opportunity. It's not often that you get to play against the best players in the world. I was super happy about it.”