Vincent Johnson receives Charlie Sifford exemption

Portland’s Vincent Johnson received the first Charlie Sifford exemption to play in the Northern Trust Open. Johnson graduated from Oregon State in three years, and will play in his first PGA Tour event Feb. 18-22.
Here’s the press release:

Vincent Johnson Named Recipient of Charlie Sifford Exemption at Northern Trust Open

First of its kind exemption for top golfer who advances diversity

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif., Feb. 2, 2009 – Vincent Johnson of Portland, Ore., was named recipient of the first Charlie Sifford Exemption for the Northern Trust Open, Feb. 16-22, at Riviera Country Club.

Johnson took up golf at age 6 and set a course record at 14 with a 9-under-par 62 at his home course, Glendoveer Golf Club, where his father, Daren, works as a mechanic. Johnson owns 68 titles through his junior golf career, having served on Junior America’s Cup and Hogan Cup teams and played for Team Tiger at the Junior World Championships. He played in the 2004 and 2007 U.S. Amateurs and the 2005, 2007 and 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championships.

Johnson graduated from Oregon State University in three years, with a degree in finance and a minor in music, and enrolled in the university’s MBA program. Oregon State’s captain and MVP in the 2005-06 season and a co-captain in 2007-08, Johnson overcame Grave’s Disease in the middle of 2007 and won the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship by 12 strokes in May 2007 for the last of his two collegiate victories. His first came at the 2005 OSU Northwest Collegiate Classic with a school and tournament record score of 14-under 202.

A member of the PAC-10′s All-Academic second team and the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar team in his last three college seasons, Johnson has won such awards as PAC-10 Player of the Month (September 2005), Golf Digest/Golf World Player of the Week (October 2005) and the Benny Award (Male Performance of the Year) at Oregon State for 2005-06.

“I have always dreamed of life on the PGA Tour and I am prepared to work as hard as possible to make that a reality,” Johnson said. “You never know what path is going to lead you to success, and I am deeply appreciative of this tremendous opportunity to help me start the journey now.”

“Vincent is a terrific recipient for this opportunity,” said Rick Waddell, president and chief executive officer of Northern Trust. “His achievements both on and off the golf course speak to his skill, determination and potential. We look forward to seeing him play.”

“I am honored to see Vincent Johnson receive the inaugural Charlie Sifford Exemption,” Sifford said. “His talent and dedication to golf can serve as inspiration to future golfers.”

“We are delighted that the Northern Trust Open is able to make this opportunity available to Vincent and other deserving golfers like him,” said Tom Pulchinski. “The Northern Trust Open has a rich history of `firsts’ and we are thrilled to celebrate the latest in that line.”

Highlighting the key role Sifford played in breaking down golf’s “Caucasian only” rule more than four decades ago, the Northern Trust Open each year will offer a sponsor’s exemption to a top golfer who represents the advancement of diversity in golf and wouldn’t otherwise be eligible to compete in the event. The exemption is awarded to a golfer who advances diversity and demonstrates both high character and ability.

The Charlie Sifford Exemption recipient was selected by Northern Trust Open Tournament Director Tom Pulchinski, with input from the PGA TOUR and Northern Trust. Candidates were identified by a variety of sources, including the PGA TOUR, PGA of America through the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship, Nationwide Tour, The First Tee, World Golf Foundation, United States Golf Association and the Bill Dickey Scholarship Association.

Sifford won the Negro Open five consecutive years before becoming the first black to join the PGA TOUR in 1961, winning two tournaments including what is now known as the Northern Trust Open. He wrote an autobiography published in 1992 titled “Just Let Me Play,” and in 2004 became the first African-American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

The 83rd playing of the Northern Trust Open begins with a pro-am and practice rounds on Monday, Feb. 16 and practice rounds Tuesday, Feb. 17. The main pro-am is Wednesday, Feb. 18 and tournament play runs Thursday, Feb. 19 through Sunday, Feb. 22.

Riviera Country will again be the host site of the tournament. This historic venue has been the official home of the tournament since 1929 when the fourth tournament was first played at the club. This is the 47th time Riviera has played host to the tournament, including every year but two since 1973. The 1983 tournament was played at Rancho Park Golf Course due to the PGA Championship at Riviera and the 1998 tournament was held at Valencia Country Club due to the U.S. Senior Open at Riviera.

The Northern Trust Open will be televised in the United States on GOLF CHANNEL (Thursday-Friday, Noon-3 p.m.) and CBS (Saturday, Noon-3 p.m.; Sunday, Noon-3:30 p.m.). In Japan, early rounds will be telecast on Jupiter Golf Network, with final rounds on NHK.

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About Jill Painter

Jill Painter is a sports columnist for the Los Angeles News Group, covering everything from the Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers, USC, UCLA, Kings, golf and all human interest stories in sports.