From the Rough

Golf without discretion

Lee Westwood is in the business of sticking it to “the man”

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Lee Westwood doesn’t strike me as the type of golfer that woulda hold a grudge in life. His big grin and relaxed demeanor just don’t give off that sort of vibe. Who knows, maybe I’m wrong.

But if ever there was a time for him to hold a grudge, however, it would have been this week at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis. The grudge would be attributed to the sponsor’s exemption snub he received earlier in the year. Here’s the rundown on what happened, courtesy of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Two years ago, Westwood, who is based in Europe and doesn’t play very often on the PGA Tour, requested a sponsor’s exemption to the St. Jude Classic. A week before the event, he withdrew. By the time Westwood requested another one this year, Cannon had already promised the maximum number of sponsor’s exemptions, so he declined Westwood โ€” a move he later acknowledged as ill-conceived, given Westwood’s status as one of the world’s elite players.

Westwood mentioned to the media at the Wachovia Championship that he wanted to play in Memphis, the week before the U.S. Open, but was denied a sponsor’s exemption. When asked why, he tugged on the UPS logo sewn prominently on his shirt, and the story instantly made headlines literally across the world: Was Westwood declined by Memphis, the home of FedEx, due to his association with competitor UPS?

In actuality, tournament director Phil Cannon had run out of exemptions to give. Fine. I can understand that. Even still, I find it hard to believe that there wasn’t some grudge being held after Westwood pulled out of the event at the last second a couple of years ago.

Westwood is the third-ranked player in the world. You mean to tell me all the sponsor’s exemption slots were full for a player of his caliber? I’m sure the tournament would have made an “exception” for Phil or Tiger.

Instead of making a big deal out of it, the media did it for Westwood, running with the story and turning it into a bigger issue than it should have been in the first place. Of course, it forced the tournament’s hand, and they ended up giving Westwood an exemption.

Instead of making it an issue this week, Westwood decided to let his clubs do the talking for him. He fired an opening-round 7-under 63 — that included a 29 on the back-nine (his first nine of the day) — to take the clubhouse lead. Westwood won’t admit it but I’m pretty sure he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder this week in Memphis due to what transpired with the tournament committee.

Assuming the “chip” produces another 63, I’m pretty sure he’ll keep it on there for the rest of the week.

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Written by Jonathan Wall

06/10/2010 at 4:47 pm

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