By Joel Beall
Sponsor’s exemptions have received a heightened amount of scrutiny the last few years, particularly when they’re employed for celebrities like Steph Curry, Tony Romo and Jake Owen. Though these high-profile names bring extra attention to events that otherwise wouldn’t make a blip on the radar, a contingent of fans, media and professional golfers believe these invites should be used more judiciously. Specifically, for rising talent or players fighting and operating on the sport’s margins.
An exemption for one with local ties, however, has proven more of a jump ball. Evidenced in the controversy at this week’s Club Colombia Championship.
Julio “The Machine” Bell, a 52-year-old amateur, turned in a first-round 93 at the Country Club of Bogota. Bell made just one par on the afternoon, and was 26 shots behind Thursday leader Sam Burns.
Bell is a former boxer who took up golf just five years ago, and currently trains out of the Joey D Golf Sports Training Center in Jupiter. According to a local newspaper, Bell is able to chase his golf dream thanks to investments and his Columbian business he shares with his wife.
However, Bell’s score has generated its share of controversy among players and caddies at this week’s event.
“I will tell you a lot of players are not happy about it,” a caddie told Golf Digest. “Just some local that’s taking a spot from guys who are trying to make a living.” That this is the event right before the first reshuffle hasn’t helped matters.
“It’s (nonsense),” relayed another caddie. “Ken (Looper, a Web.com Tour pro and first alternate) is sitting out because someone paid money to play.”
Before his second round, Bell, sensing the criticism, posted a message on Instagram.
“Years of work in golf there is still a long way to go. I ask a question: have you spent a lifetime practicing and that you are so good, that you have done for yourself, or better yet, that you have done for others? If you have no answer, do not criticize.”
At the time of this article’s posting, Bell was 12 over through his first five holes in Round 2. (Update: Bell finished with a 105 on Friday.)
This article has been edited. It previously stated Bell played in the 2016 PGA Tour Latinoamerica Colombia Classic.