Rypien's next tee formation to be at Kemper Redskins QB to be first active non-golf pro on tour

March 31, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

The introduction on the first tee at Avenel might go something like this: "The winner of the 1990 NBC Celebrity Golf Classic . . . and the 1992 Super Bowl, ladies and gentlemen, let's welcome Mark Rypien."

Celebrity golf has come to this year's Kemper Open.

Unable to draw the bigger names on the PGA Tour consistently in recent years, the area's biggest pro golf tournament will make history when the Washington Redskins quarterback becomes the first active professional athlete from another sport to play in a regular tour event.

It was announced yesterday that Rypien, a 1-handicap, was given a sponsor's exemption to play in this year's Kemper, scheduled for May 28-31 at the Tournament Players Club in Potomac. The exemption was given by Ben Brundred Jr., the tournament's general chairman.

"A golf tournament, like any other major sports event, is about entertainment," Brundred said. "Who can provide better entertainment than the quarterback and MVP of the Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins? He's the biggest sports figure in this area."

Said Rypien: "As a young kid, you dream about playing professional sports, and I've got ten that opportunity with the Redskins. As a golfing fanatic, playing in a tournament like this is a dream come true."

Brundred said Rypien asked about playing in last year's tournament, but his request came after the eight sponsor's exemptions had been given out. Discussions began in December and, after talking with tour officials and players last week at the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, Fla., a formal invitation was extended.

"I think he's got to prove he can be competitive," Brundred said. "I'm sure he'll be practicing a lot."

"This is going to be a challenge for me," said Rypien, 29, who is considered a professional because of the $75,000 prize money he received for winning the NBC celebrity tournament two years ago in Lake Tahoe, Nev. "I'd be silly to think I could win, but at the same time, I'm looking to making the cut."

Brundred doesn't expect a backlash of criticism from tour players whose place Rypien might be taking in the 156-man field. Based on conversations he had at last week's tournament, Brundred says the reaction will be favorable.

"Most of those guys are sports nuts, and a couple of them asked to be paired with him," Brundred said. "But I'm sure we're going to get a complaint or two."

Touring pro Fred Funk, former University of Maryland golf coach from Laurel, said he doesn't think there will be a problem with Rypien's inclusion as long as he does not take the place of a regular tour member.

Of the eight exemptions at this year's Kemper Open, seven have already been reserved. Two will go to tour-qualifying school graduates, two will go to older, former tour champions, one to local pro Webb Heintzelman, one to the Maryland Open champion and one to Rypien.

"Because of the timing, I don't think anybody will mind because a lot of guys are gearing up then for the U.S. Open," Funk said yesterday from New Orleans. "I think it will be great personally."

Said Rypien, who played 15 holes at Avenel yesterday: "I'd feel bad if I was taking the place of a regular touring pro, but on the advice of the Kemper people, that's not the case. I haven't gotten to play a lot of competitive golf since I won the NBC tournament, so I'm really looking forward to this."

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