Welcoming new talent has been long-time tradition at Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard
The Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard has long enjoyed a tradition of supporting new young talent in the game, giving exemptions early in their careers to the likes of Vijay Singh and Ernie Els - both now Hall of Famers as well as winners at Bay Hill - and bringing in Japanese teen sensation Ryo Ishikawa in 2009.
As the 33rd edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard approaches, golf fans the world over can expect to see plenty of the new generation of young stars March 21-27 at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida.
"Watching how young players progress and mature is something you always want to see," said tournament founder and host Arnold Palmer. "It's a healthy thing for the game to always have that infusion of new blood in there."
"We have a great history of giving young, up-and-coming players an opportunity to play here at Bay Hill through our exemption process," tournament director Scott Wellington added. "That coupled with the younger players who have made a name on the PGA TOUR already over the last year or so presents a great stage for competition this year."
Indeed, while the field of 120 competitors is weeks from being determined, the pool of young stars that could potentially appear at Bay Hill is exceedingly deep, starting with PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year Rickie Fowler, 22, who tied for 50th a year ago. Fellow American and Ryder Cup player Dustin Johnson, 26, won twice last year and nearly won two major championships, while fellow South Carolinian Bill Haas also registered two victories in 2010. Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Australia's Jason Day, just 21 and 23, respectively, won their first TOUR titles a year ago.
Ishikawa, just 19, entered the 2011 season having already triumphed nine times on his home tour in Japan. He tied for 40th last year at Bay Hill. Matteo Manassero of Italy, won the Castello Masters in October at the age of 17, the youngest player ever to win on the European Tour.
"I've never in my tenure seen so much buzz and interest about rookies and young players creating exciting performances," PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem said. "Actually, it has led us to conclude that we really need to focus on that dynamic as we go into 2011."
And that is what the PGA TOUR has done.
Finchem said, "We had a significant uptick in the interest and enthusiasm about young players and their performances in '10, which have led us to conclude that we really ought to focus a lot of energy on that, which we are doing this year. That's a very positive thing, I think, if that continues." "You can see a little bit more talk about it with the PGA TOUR commercials showing the veterans versus the rookies or kind of the young guns," Fowler said. "It's pretty cool to be a part of that elite group that they're showing. But there's a lot of guys out there, a lot of young guys playing well. There's a lot of young guys that are going to be out here pretty soon that you haven't heard about or seen on TOUR yet. So it's pretty cool to be a part of the movement. And we're not scared to go out and play and definitely to be in contention."
Case in point is rookie Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela, who made headlines by capturing the Bob Hope Classic in just his second start as a member of the PGA TOUR and in his first start at the long-running tournament. Only two other men had won the Bob Hope Classic in their first attempt: Charley Hoffman in 2007 and Arnold Palmer in 1960.
When Vegas, 26, finished third the following week at the Farmer's Insurance Open, he became the first rookie to ever lead the FedExCup standings.
"It's pretty exciting to be playing well this early in the season and it really frees me up for the rest of the year," said Vegas, who admitted looking forward to playing at Bay Hill after meeting Palmer last year at the Nationwide Tour Mylan Classic in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, where The King served as honorary chairman. "I'm definitely excited about having a chance to play in Mr. Palmer's tournament. That's one of the perks for playing well is an opportunity like that."
For tickets to the 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard or for more information, call the Bay Hill Club ticket office at 407-876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843, or visit us on the Internet atwww.arnoldpalmerinvitational.com. Tournament proceeds benefit Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children andWinnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies.