POTOMAC -- In promoting their tournament with a local television commercial, the folks running the $1.1 million Kemper Open didn't go after defending champion Billy Andrade or any of the other past winners -- including Greg Norman -- playing in this year's event. Nor did they use another big-name player in the 156-man field.
They featured a guy who probably won't make the cut.
Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien is a bigger draw around these parts than Andrade. But with a field that includes Norman, PGA champion John Daly and U.S. Open champion Payne Stewart, there is some question as to whether the Kemper needs a guy with a Super Bowl ring and a 1-handicap.
"I'm not out there to step on anybody's toes," Rypien said. "What can I say? I was given a chance to play, an opportunity to compete. I don't know whether to apologize or feel bad. But this is not a hoax."
Tournament director Ben Brundred Jr., who extended Rypien one of eight sponsor's exemptions in March, has not second-guessed his decision. "When I did it, I had no idea who was going to commit," Brundred said. "But even if I had, I would have done it anyway."
Rypien's inclusion into the field is believed to be the first time a professional athlete from another sport has been allowed to compete in a regular tour event that isn't played in a pro-am format, such as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. John Brodie and Ken Harrelson played in tour events while they were active in other sports, but both had PGA Tour cards at the time.
The exemptions are usually given to recent tour school graduates, Hogan Tour players, fading stars who otherwise might not qualify or foreign players who are not regular tour members. Though it has raised some eyebrows, and caused some minor concerns among lower-echelon tour players, the appearance of Rypien has been greeted favorably by most in the field.
"If he's a good player and he doesn't embarrass himself by shooting 85-85, and the sponsor feels he'll be an asset to the tournament, then I don't see any problem with it," said former ZTC Kemper Open champion Jerry Pate. "But there needs to be a fine line between a guy who can be competitive and someone who's the best in his sport who on his best day shoots 85. That's sideshowish."
Clearly, Rypien is no Michael Jordan, whose recent troubles on the golf course have been well-chronicled. But because he won the NBC Celebrity Classic a few years back -- the $75,000 first-prize check he took qualified him as a pro -- doesn't mean that Rypien will be ready for the Tournament Players Club at Avenel when the 72-hole tournament begins tomorrow.
Rypien has taken the publicity and potential controversy in stride. He has made no brash predictions, nor has he made any apologies for his game. He has played the course a dozen times since being invited and was out in yesterday's rain playing with Andrade.
"Billy was doing a little teaching, and I was doing a lot of learning," said Rypien, who began playing golf when he was 10 and started playing it in earnest after his rookie season with the Redskins. "These guys are perfectionists. To do this every week is a real test of your nerves."
Rypien said that just playing a practice round with Andrade and Jim McGovern, another tour pro, was intimidating enough. The thought of playing golf in front of a couple of thousand spectators is quite a bit more nerve-wracking than playing football at a jam-packed stadium.
"I was pretty nervous [yesterday] and that was with no one watching," said Rypien, whose best round so far at Avenel is a 2-over par 73. "But I'm looking forward to it."
One of those looking forward to Rypien playing is Paul McIntire, ++ who, along with Carl Cooper, will be playing in the same group with Rypien for the first two rounds. McIntire is 210th on the money list. "I'd guess I'd be bummed if it was me who lost a chance to play, but the sponsors can do what they want with their exemptions," said McIntire, 26. "He's obviously a pretty good player. I'll try to make him feel as comfortable as possible."
Daly also seemed excited. He said he might bring along a football. Would Daly get the Super Bowl MVP to sign his ball?
"No," Daly said. "I just want to see how far he can throw it."