Every PGA Tour event has a handful or so of spots in the field to dole out to golfers who didn’t otherwise qualify.
Those spots may go to a past champion. They often are awarded to a rising star in the game. The strategy there is that perhaps the up-and-comer will remember the courtesy later in his pro career and will become a regular at that particular Tour stop.
Sometimes a sponsor exemption gets doled out to someone noteworthy as a means to drive interest in a tournament, such as former NFL quarterback Tony Romo, who got into the Charles Schwab Challenge, or LPGA star Lexi Thompson, who wowed the Las Vegas crowd last October before just missing the weekend cut at the Shriners Children’s Open.
According to the PGA Tour, since 1990 there have been just 12 golfers to win a tournament after getting a sponsor exemption. There’s been over 1,000 PGA Tour events in that time, proving the long odds a sponsor invite faces.
Here’s the list of those who won on the PGA Tour after receiving a sponsor exemption since 1990.
Nick Dunlap, The American Express (2024)
Nick Dunlap became the first amateur since Phil Mickelson in 1991 to win on the PGA Tour at the 2024 The American Express at PGA West in La Quinta, California, with a one-shot victory over Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Martin Laird, Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (2020)
After failing to end matters on the 72nd hole and then again on the first playoff hole, Martin Laird knocked in a 23-foot putt for birdie on the second extra hole to win the 2020 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Sunday’s fading light at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas over Austin Cook and Matthew Wolff.
Matthew Wolff, 3M Open (2019)
Wolff, who turned professional just a month earlier, earned his first PGA Tour victory at the 2019 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minnesota. Wolff, 20, shot a 6-under 65 in the final round to edge out fellow Tour newcomer Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau by one stroke at 21-under.
Billy Hurley III, Quicken Loans National (2016)
In a year of fairytale first-time winners on the PGA Tour, Billy Hurley III, a Navy grad and military man, winning the 2016 Quicken Loans National on a sponsor invitation not far from where he learned the game has to take the cake.
“Couldn’t script a better one for me to win my first Tour win,” said Hurley, who closed with a 2-under 69 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. “Grew up on one side of D.C., live on the other side of D.C. and then at the premier military event.”
Hurley, 34, entered the week ranked No. 607 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Padraig Harrington, The Honda Classic (2015)
That victory arrived for the 43-year-old Irishman was stunning – not because Padraig Harrington was ranked 297th in the world, not because he was riding into tournaments on the strength of a sponsor exemption, and not because an old case of the yips had crept into his putting stroke late Sunday.
It was stunning because when he returned Monday morning to finish the rain-plagued 2015 Honda Classic, he trailed Ian Poulter by four strokes with just 11 holes to play.
Lee Westwood, St. Jude Classic (2010)
Lee Westwood has played golf long enough to be philosophical despite all the times he’s come up short when so very close to victory.
The Englishman who finished second at the Masters, lost a playoff in Dubai and finished tied for fourth at the Players Championship in 2010 won the St. Jude Classic for his second career PGA Tour victory and first since 1998, beating Swede Robert Karlsson on the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff.
Jason Gore, 84 Lumber Classic (2005)
Jason Gore’s seven wins on the Korn Ferry Tour are the most in that circuit’s history. That includes three wins in 2005, the same year he won the PGA Tour’s 84 Lumber Classic and played in the final group of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where he was dubbed the Prince of Pinehurst. He also was a member of Pepperdine’s NCAA title team in 1997 and represented the United States in that year’s Walker Cup.
Adam Scott, Deutsche Bank Championship (2003)
Adam Scott, 23, shot a final-round 66 to win the 2003 Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston. He led by at least three shots during a rainy final round and he went on to win by four over Rocco Mediate. The win marks Scott’s first on the PGA Tour and fifth worldwide.
David Gossett, John Deere Classic (2001)
David Gossett was once a can’t-miss kid who won the 1999 U.S. Amateur, played on the Walker Cup team and starred at the University of Texas. He won his first PGA Tour event at the 2001 John Deere Classic.
Tiger Woods, Las Vegas Invitational (1996)
A 20-year-old Tiger Woods collected his first winner’s check as a professional at the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational in a playoff over Davis Love III.
“Those magicians’ white tigers on the strip were second-string felines,” wrote Golfweek’s Jeff Rude after Woods rallied from four shots back with a final-round, 8-under 64 at TPC Summerlin.
Vijay Singh, Buick Classic (1993)
Vijay Singh earned $180,000 for winning the 1993 Buick Classic, his first PGA Tour win, at Westchester Country Club in New York. The 30-year-old Singh made the victory his 14th worldwide. Singh would go on to win 33 more times on the PGA Tour.
Phil Mickelson, Northern Telecom Open (1991)
Phil Mickelson won the 1991 Northern Telecom Open in Tucson, Arizona, while still a member of the Arizona State men’s golf team. The first of the 11 golfers on this list of sponsor exemptions to win a PGA Tour event, Mickelson also headlines an even shorter list: amateurs to win on golf’s big stage. Only seven golfers have pulled off that feat.