As tournament director for next week’s FBR Open, Mike Haenel has faced some difficult decisions. And, no, he’s not worried about security at the Bird’s Nest, or how the parking is going to fit together. Haenel has his fellow Phoenix Thunderbirds to take care of that.
His most daunting task as the man out front? Who gets the five exemptions into the FBR’s limited field of 132 players. Often, such a “free pass’’ can help a young player get started, or resurrect a struggling player’s career.
Take veterans Kirk Triplett and Duffy Waldorf, who got the FBR’s last two exemptions from Haenel on Wednesday.
Triplett is a Scottsdale guy who couldn’t make the field on his own because he’s playing this season on a minor medical extension, which will be lifted to full-time, top-125 status as soon as he earns about $30,000. Meanwhile, Waldorf was not going to get in because last year he ended up No. 153 on the money list.
“They both needed a little help, and being loyal supporters of our tournament and both having past success here, it just seemed right,’’ said Haenel of what starts out as a group decision but ultimately boils down to him pulling the trigger.
“But, yeah, (handing out exemptions) is the toughest part of this job because we have so many longstanding relationships with the players — over 70 players applied for an exemption — and you have to weigh out each one separately. And it’s complicated, because we have so many Tour players that live here in the Valley.’’
Earlier, Haenel determined that Andrew Magee, another vet with a proven track record at the TPC of Scottsdale, needed some help after the longtime Paradise Valley resident ended up No. 145 on the money list. He also doled out exemptions to former Arizona State All-American Chez Reavie and Nationwide Tour graduate Camilo Villegas.
Why would Haenel go to young, unproven players like Reavie and Villegas? Because part of the strategy behind awarding exemptions is also about building the future, Haenel explained.
“It’s like last year, when Joey Snyder (III) needed one. (Former tournament chairman) Bryon Carney gave it to him, and Joey went on to have a great season,’’ said Haenel, noting that Snyder finished tied for 11th at the FBR, with the $100,000 he earned propelling him on through the West Coast Swing and into Florida, where he played in several tournaments that he would not have got into without that exemption.
“It’s the same for Chez and Camilo, who are fine young players and persons that we want to help now in hopes that they’ll keep coming back on their own some day,” Haenel said.
Over the years, exemptions from the Thunderbirds have led to long-lasting relationships with players like John Daly, who played in the FBR via the exemption route long before he won the 1991 PGA Championship.
At the same time, other proven players like Scottsdale’s Michael Allen, who had to go back to qualifying school last year, as well as past FBR/Phoenix Open champ Bill Glasson, get passed over. Same with youngsters like Bubba Watson, the long-hitting rookie who created such a stir in Hawaii with his 350-yard bombs.
“I don’t know him, but I hear Michael Allen is an all-world guy, and I would have loved to have the luxury of giving Bubba a spot, especially since he’s already become such a celebrity,’’ Haenel noted.
“I guess the bottom line is, it’s a brutal process, and while you make five guys happy, you end up with another 70 guys who are not.’’
Being a sensitive person with a strong sense of humor, Haenel said he hopes players like Allen, Glasson and Watson can post top-10 finishes in San Diego this week. Or that perhaps Villegas could top-10 and free up an exemption. (The top-10 finishers there will get into the FBR if they’re not already in the field, according to Tour rules).
“Now that the hard part is over, it’s time to start concentrating on having a great tournament,’’ said Haenel, a real estate agent from Paradise Valley who has been going 24/7 for the past six months.
“All I know is this: I’ve got four dogs, five kids and a wife who doesn’t really like me very much these days. At the same time, the field is looking pretty good.’’
Yes it is, thanks to the nonstop efforts — and difficult decisions — made by Mike Haenel and the Thunderbirds.