USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Peter Uihlein and Hunter Mahan
- The PGA Tour's Safeway Open starts on Thursday, Oct. 4 at the Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, California.
- Patrick Cantlay is the consensus betting favorite at 11-1, while Brandt Snedeker and Joaquin Niemann come in at 20-1.
For years, every once in a while, a sponsor’s exemption into a professional golf tournament would be offered to a scratch-handicap athlete from another sport.
A Johnny Bench here, a Mark Rypien there — guys who could help sell a few extra tickets to the local crowd, play two rounds, then explain to the world just how much more talented the game’s best pros are compared with your average scratch golfer.
Well, it’s not happening every once in a while anymore.
The seal has officially been broken.
Athletes such as Steph Curry, Tony Romo and John Smoltz have competed in events and comported themselves well in recent years, which is why more sponsors are offering non-golfers a spot in their fields.
Sure, the tired refrain about these guys “taking a spot” from a player who “deserves it” is still out there, but that’s always been a bad take.
Sponsors specifically have exemptions so they can offer them to anyone they wish – whether it’s a fringe pro or a baseball player.
I mention all of this because Mark Mulder, the former Oakland A’s pitcher, will be competing in this week’s Safeway Open, the PGA Tour’s season opener.
I’ve gotten to know Mulder a bit over the years and I’ve played golf with him before. I’ll be rooting like hell for him to have a big week.
But at 80-1 odds, where I saw him listed in one book — ahead of more than a dozen legitimate contenders — I might not be putting any cash on my man this week.
Instead, my picks start with a boss who’s going after a rare three-peat.
Yes, he’s a boss. Literally, he was my boss, as I caddied for him in the final round of the BMW Championship before getting unceremoniously fired afterward. (If I say I quit, I can’t collect the unemployment checks, right?)
Steele has won this tourney each of the past two years, and history shows he’s a horse-for-the-course kind of guy, perennially playing his best golf at specific tracks.
Expect a healthy dose of confidence when he returns to Napa this week.