By Tyler Olson
The US Open is this week, and while Carl from Caddyshack was daydreaming about playing in the Masters, most of us also have the same dream about playing in the US Open. So, how would one go about making that dream a reality and securing one of the 156 spots available in the tournament each year? Well, this is how:
The primary way the field is determined is through full exemptions from all qualifying. The USGA wants as strong a field as possible so they make sure to set up a system through which the best players in the world are automatically in the field. After all, if Jordan Spieth caught the flu the day before local qualifying and missed out on the US Open in favor of some anonymous club pro from Topeka, that would be a significant blow to the prestige of the tournament. Therefore, for the 2016 edition of the US Open, the USGA has fifteen exemption categories that ensure strength of field.
1) Winners of the U.S. Open Championship the last 10 years.
2) Winner and runner-up of the 2015 U.S. Amateur Championship (must still be an amateur).
3) Winner of the 2015 Amateur Championship conducted by The R&A (must still be an amateur).
4) Winner of the 2015 Mark H. McCormack Medal (must still be an amateur).
5) Winners of the Masters Tournament the last five years.
6) Winners of The Open Championship conducted by The R&A the last five years.
7) Winners of the PGA of America Championship the last five years.
8) Winners of the Players Championship the last three years.
9) Winner of the 2016 European Tour BMW PGA Championship.
10) Winner of the 2015 U.S. Senior Open Championship.
11) From the 2015 U.S. Open Championship, the 10 lowest scores and anyone tying for 10th place.
12) Those players qualifying for the season-ending 2015 Tour Championship.
13) From the Official World Golf Rankings, the top 60 point leaders and ties as of May 23, 2016. Players must select a qualifying site at the time of entry.
14) From the Official World Golf Rankings, the top 60 point leaders and ties as of June 13, 2016. Players must select a qualifying site at the time of entry.
15) Special exemptions as selected by the USGA.
These exemptions round out the majority of the field, and, if you manage to fit in one of these categories, then you don’t need to read the second half of this article. However, if you are like most golfers on earth, then you need to find another way into our national championship. Luckily, there is one.
As Tin Cup said, the US Open is the most democratic of all golf tournaments. Not only is it played in America, the land of the free and home to one of the most democratic governments on earth, but the US Open is just that- open. Anybody, amateur or professional, with a 1.4 handicap index or lower, can enter to play through the qualifying process.
The first stage is 18-hole local qualifying. Each year, around 9000-10,000 players enter one of the 111 local qualifying tournaments, with the number of spots in sectional qualifiers being awarded based on field size at each venue. Those who make it through locals or are exempt from local qualifying receive one of the 600-800 spots in sectionals each year. While a full list of exemptions from 2016 local qualifying is nearly impossible to find, most of the exemptions on that list include amateurs who won or finished runner up in major tournaments, those who played well in previous US Opens but did not gain full exemption to the current year’s tournament, and top money winners from various professional tours. There are twelve sites for sectional qualifiers. Ten are in the US, one is in England, and the last is located in Japan. The number of spots available in the US Open to sectional qualifiers varies each year with the number of golfers who end up meeting one of the full exemptions to the tournament. Last year there were only 22 of 156 spots available, whereas this year, fifty-five of the 156 spots are open to those who perform the best at sectionals. That sheer volume of qualifiers this year could make for an intriguing tournament with the possibility of a no-name being in it on the final day with the likes of Dustin Johnson or Jason Day.
And there you have it: The blueprint for how to play in the US Open and have your shot to beat the best pros in the world. Now all that’s left to do is get practicing for a spot next year. See you at Erin Hills!