Despite increased criticism, Webb Simpson defends PGA Tour sponsor exemption for 2024 Wells Fargo Championship

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Outside of the four major championships, players have circled the PGA Tour’s eight signature events on the 2024 schedule seeing as the limited-field tournaments boast a $20 million purse and offer up even more FedEx Cup points than a normal event.

This week at Quail Hollow marks the Tour’s sixth of eight elevated stops, and the big-money event has brought another round of criticism for the four players who received sponsor exemptions to the 2024 Wells Fargo Championship: Matt Kuchar, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson and Gary Woodland. As members of the PGA Tour’s Policy Board, players like Scott and Simpson have been in the social media crosshairs, and the latter – a Quail Hollow member since 2011 and resident since 2014 – defended his selection during a press conference on Wednesday.

Wells Fargo: Photos | Thursday tee times | Picks to win, odds

“Look, it’s a different day and age now than it was. I know these sponsor exemptions are probably the most coveted sponsor exemptions in the history of the Tour, but we’re not going to make everyone happy,” said Simpson. “As we’re looking at what criteria should these sponsor exemptions be, yadda yadda, we’re trying to balance making sponsors happy, giving them the opportunity to invite — you know, these tournament directors, who do they want to bring to their tournament, to their community, who do they think will add value to their tournament. These tournament directors are working round the clock for a year trying to make their tournament the best. We want to give them the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, you have a few spots, four spots in these Signature Events to be able to invite who you want to invite.’”

The Tour’s idea with the signature events was for players to earn their way into the amped-up tournaments and reap the rewards for their efforts. A member of the Tour’s Policy Board earning four spots into the six signature events so far brings the meritocracy into question, especially given his form this season. Across seven starts, Simpson has made six cuts but hasn’t cracked the top 25. He’s 152nd in the FedEx Cup standings and No. 227 in the world.

“I know that I’ve gotten, this is my fourth sponsor exemption, and Adam Scott’s received his fair share. There was controversy and guys were trying to link us being on the board, but it has nothing to do with me being on the board,” Simpson. The seven-time winner on Tour (not since 2020) argued his relationships with tournament directors and specifically his connection to the Charlotte area have made him a worthwhile selection.

Webb Simpson hits a tee shot on the first hole during the third round of the Valero Texas Open golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

“So I certainly think the criticisms, I knew they were going to come depending on who got them, but I’m very comfortable knowing that we’ve given the sponsors the opportunity to pick, and the tournament directors,” he added. “I want to move on from it and realize that the Wells Fargo Championship is an amazing tournament.”

As a player in the field this week, Simpson has spent time with kids in the hospital and will spend time with the First Tee of Charlotte on the range at Quail Hollow on Wednesday afternoon.

“There’s things that I’m way more interested in and that get me excited than kind of worrying about what a certain person thinks about who should get sponsor exemptions,” Simpson said.

While Simpson doesn’t care about the perception of sponsor exemptions to signature events, the fans clearly do. The last thing the Tour needs right now is to alienate its supporters and water down its biggest events as it continues to be challenged each year by the threat of the guaranteed money offered by LIV Golf. The powers that be in Ponte Vedra Beach at Tour HQ are in a tough position as they try to make players, fans and sponsors happy.

“What the PGA Tour Policy Board has committed is that at the summer meeting, they’re going to review how things have progressed in terms of the metrics we looked at, you guys might remember me talking about this a year ago, retention rates, and the sort of aspirational nature of the PGA Tour,” said the Tour’s Chief Competitions Officer Tyler Dennis. “We’re gonna look at all of that and I’m sure sponsor exemptions will be one of those things and see what, if any, changes might be made for the 2025 season.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek