Qualifying For The U.S. Open
I committed previously to providing some insights leading into and during the U.S. Open in the Turbo blog, and I’m going to try and stand by that commitment!
Whether or not you’re a golf fan, it makes no difference — it’s my hope you’ll learn something in either case.
The first thing to know about the U.S. Open is that it holds the promise for entry to any qualified golfer. The qualification occurs by offering every year, thousands of golfers both pro and amateur alike, with a U.S. Golf Association Handicap Index not exceeding 1.4 — the opportunity to play in the Open.
The Handicap Index is the great and brilliant equalizer in golf, allowing golfers of all “handicaps” the opportunity to compete with one another in tournaments across the country. The Index takes into account your level of play, then offers you a “handicap” to equalize the competitive landscape when you’re playing someone with, for instance, a much lower handicap.
By way of example, this week at my father’s home course, the Denton Country Club, we’ll be competing in an annual “Member-Guest” tournament (I’m the guest!). My handicap index is 14.2, which will help his country club match my index to the complexity level (or slope) of their course, and that way, when we get flighted for the tournament, we’ll be playing against players of a similar ability.
In the case of the U.S. Open, it’s much more level, because all the players have to have an index of 1.4 or better, which means they have to be darn near scratch golfers.
That’s just to get in to the qualifier. In 2012, there were 109 local qualifiers from April 30 to May 17. Each of those local qualifiers consisted of 18 holes, with a select number of players advancing then to the 36-hole “sectional” qualifiers (again, with the number of available spots determined by the number of players at the local qualifier.)
A very small number of golfers manage to navigate both stages of qualifying to earn a spot in the 156-player U.S. Open. In 1964, Ken Venturi claimed the championship after competing in both the local and sectional qualifying, and Orville Moody did the same in 1969. In no other professional tournament can rank amateurs rise to compete with the best of the best and actually walk away with the Championship trophy!
As former USGA Executive Director David B. Fay referred to it, the U.S. Open is “the most democratic championship” in golf.
In the sectional qualifying, which is the final stage before U.S. Open hopefuls get to the championship proper, the USGA offers 13 sectional sites – 11 in the U.S. and two overseas in Japan and England. Generally, about 750 golfers compete at the sectional qualifying level for about half of the 156 available spots in the U.S. Open.
Sectional qualifying is a grueling 36-hole one-day marathon, with only a handful of available spots at each site. The USGA established two “tour” sites in Columbus, Ohio, and Memphis, Tenn., for members of the PGA Tour who either have just competed at The Memorial (Columbus) or are preparing to play the FedEx St. Jude Classic (Memphis).
In 2005, the USGA established two international qualifiers; one in Japan (Japan, Asia and Australasian tours) and another in England (European Tour). In its first year, Michael Campbell of New Zealand not only qualified in England, but went on to claim the U.S. Open title at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina!
So, that’s the story behind the story for U.S. Open qualifying. It truly is the Everyman golfer’s championship, and is one of the reasons we regular “Joes” get so excited, as even “we” have a chance to win the Open!
In a future post, I’ll share some history behind the U.S. Open.