Two weeks ago, pro golfer Charlie Gibson of Phoenix called Congressional Country Club and said, "If there's anyone there who has a big heart, I've got a good story to tell."
Bill Booe, executive director of the Kemper Open, listened to Gibson explain that he was $56 short of keeping his PGA tour playing card for another year and had only two more tournaments in which to try to keep it. Would the Kemper consider giving him a sponsor exemption, thereby eliminating the necessity of qualifying on Monday, when a player can play well and still not make the field?
A week later, Kemper officials showed their heart.
So, yesterday, Gibson played his front nine like a guy who could make $56 a year, shooting 39, with a double-bogey on the finishing hole. Then he played the second nine like a man who should have a lifetime exemption, finishing with a 32 for 71, one over par.
Surviving today's cut would guarantee Gibson $800 and end much anxiety. But, in case he doesn't make the cut this week or next week at Atlanta, Gibson, for what he called "insurance," passed the regional qualifying school two weeks ago at Indianapolis. With qualifying for the U.S. Open last week, he has played competitively for nine straight weeks.
"I'm tired and I need a break," Gibson said on the practice tee following yesterday's round. "But right now, I can't afford it."
Gibson, 27, has won $11,101 since earning his playing card for the second time almost a year ago. His expenses, covered mostly by a sponsor, have been $43,000, he said. But the $56 is critical, because the tour standard for success is how much the 160th player on the tour earned. Last year it was $11,157.
After hitting five fine drives off the practice tee, followed by low, screaming long irons, Gibson turned and said, "It would be hard to tell me from one of the big guys from what I've done out here."
Indeed, that is what the hullabaloo regarding an all-exempt tour is about. Give a guy a shot at qualifying for an entire year, so he can prove himself once and for all. Or as Howard Twitty, a member of the tour's policy board, put it yesterday:
"If we had an all-exempt tour and I made it and I played 35 weeks and couldn't meet the minimum cutoff, and if I had 18 cents left, I'd mail in my card."
"If your goal is 160th, then you shouldn't be out here," Gibson said. "But I have to get over the hump."
And that is putting more pressure on Gibson than he says he wants or needs.
"It's something you don't need to worry about. It's something you shouldn't have to think about. I think I'm a good player, but obviously not the caliber of a (Tom) Watson," Gibson said.
The first time Gibson, a Northern California native who played at Arizona State, earned his playing card, he fell $5,000 short of keeping it. "As long as I improve," he said, "that's how long I think I'll play, within reason.
When he lost his playing card the first time, he played the Asian tour for three months and a lot of pro-am-type tournaments in Arizona. What will he do if he loses this time?
"Make new plans," he said. "I really, truly don't know. Being a suave, debonair guy, I'd tell you I'd go out and find a good job. But that's not true. I'd probably play golf somewhere and be a bum?
And if he makes the cut today?
"You'll have to look out for me on the weekend," he said. "I'll either play great, because I'm so relaxed, or I'll play horrible, because I'm so relaxed."