Webb Simpson shoots down critics, defends Wells Fargo sponsor exemption

Webb Simpson arrives at this week’s Wells Fargo Championship as the 227th-ranked player in the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR).

And yet, Simpson, a PGA Tour Policy Board member, received another sponsor’s exemption to play in another Signature Event.

It marks his fourth sponsor’s invite to a Signature Event this season, as Simpson has received invites to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and the RBC Heritage already. His best finish came at Bay Hill, where he tied for 30th.

Now, he will compete at Quail Hollow alongside 68 others who are some of the best players on the PGA Tour.

But many golfers and fans alike have criticized the tour and tournament organizers for continually including policy board members in these elite events with elevated purses.

“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,” Simpson said Wednesday at Quail Hollow.

Webb Simpson, PGA Tour, RBC Heritage

Webb Simpson plays a shot at the RBC Heritage.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

“As we’re looking at what criteria should these sponsor exemptions be—yadda yadda—we’re trying to balance making sponsors happy, giving tournament directors the opportunity who 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 around 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.”

Come to find out, Simpson has a personal relationship with those who facilitate this event. He lives in the Charlotte area, hails from Raleigh, and attended school in North Carolina, playing at Wake Forest in Winston-Salem.

“I’ve known these tournament directors, and they’ll tell you themselves, since my rookie year in 2009,” Simpson added.

“I have great affection for these tournaments and sponsors, and I think it’s way more than just currently who’s getting in. How long have they been out here? [Have] they won major championships? Have they been around the game for a long time? [Tournament Director] Gary Sobba is a friend of mine, and he gets to pick along with Wells Fargo, who they think would be great for their tournament.”

Of course, the 39-year-old Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

He has also played in the Wells Fargo Championship 13 times before, with his best finish coming in 2015, when he tied for second, finishing seven strokes behind winner Rory McIlroy.

That said, he knows the criticism for his inclusion in these top-tier events is out there.

“I know this is my fourth sponsor exemption, and Adam Scott’s received his fair share, too,” Simpson said.

Webb Simpson, PGA Tour, The Players Championship

Webb Simpson during the first round of the 2024 Players Championship, a tournament in which he missed the cut.
Photo by Logan Bowles/PGA Tour via Getty Images

“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.”

The PGA Tour Policy Board has been a pertinent topic of discussion as of late, but Simpson insists his position on it has nothing to do with this sponsor’s exemption.

“I certainly think the criticisms, I knew they were going to come depending on them, but I‘m very comfortable knowing that we’ve given the sponsors and the tournament directors the opportunity to pick,” Simpson explained.

“I want to move on from [that] and realize that the Wells Fargo Championship is an amazing tournament. I’m excited to be here; it’s my home, and I get to do cool things this week. I got to go to the Trojans Levine Center last week and played bingo with some kids in the hospital through this exemption.

“I get to hang out with some kids today on the range for The First Tee of Charlotte. There are things that I’m way more interested in and that get me excited than worrying about what a certain person thinks about who should get sponsor exemptions.”

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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