Just in case you haven’t heard, the major championship we all think of as the US Open won’t be happening this year. Not really. Which, I hasten to add, is understandable in these unprecedented times.
Faced with the harsh reality that their usual multi-tiered qualifying system would be both impractical and unworkable, the blue-blazered, blue-blooded brain-trust that is the United States Golf Association has decided to put on something a bit different.
So it is that the field at Winged Foot in September (by way of June) will accumulate via the invention of yet-to-be-decided exemption categories. In other words, one privileged few have (typically) charged themselves with the task of identifying another privileged few. What could be more USGA-ish? Despite much prolonged and high-profile evidence to the contrary (who of us can forget or forgive their seemingly endless series of course set-up cock-ups?), the Far Hills, New Jersey-based organisation continue to harbour the delusion that they somehow know more about golf than anyone else on the planet. Amazing right?
But I digress more than a little. Will what we end up with later this month actually be a true US “Open?”
Of course not. How can it be, the clue in the title?
Think about it. This hybrid version just won’t be the same and certainly not “open.” Not even close. But let’s not be too harsh. “US Closed” is perhaps a bit too extreme a characterisation given the virus-plagued circumstances in which we currently find ourselves. So let’s go with “US Ajar,” if and when this pseudo-major takes place as scheduled.
And let’s see if we can do a better job of filling what is normally a 156-strong field. Although that number may turn out to be lower given the daylight issues that come with playing three months later than usual in the northern hemisphere.
First up – and assuming that the game is going to be fooled into anointing the winner, “US Open champion” – we need to go with quality. Yes, the touchingly off-beat tales that brighten the lives of every story-starved journalist early in championship week need to be part of the mix. But when was the last time someone you barely heard of won the US Open? Okay, you can have Steve Jones in 1996 and maybe Lucas Glover in 2009. But they are the exceptions. While the too-often too-extreme course set-ups have too-often worked against the identification of the most-talented players, most champions do tend to have at least some sort of profile.
“Will what we end up with later this month actually be a true US “Open?” Of course not. How can it be?”
Anyway, in normal-times the top-60 on the world-ranking list at close of entries are exempt from qualifying. That number needs to be bigger. I’m thinking the leading 100 players need to be guaranteed spots. That will also give the championship the beginnings of the international flavour that was, until relatively recently, largely absent from all three of the American-based majors. Lest it be forgotten, when Jones lifted the strangely-unnamed trophy at Oakland Hills not even a quarter of a century ago, less than 20 percent of the starting line-up was ‘non-American’. And some of those were foreign nationals actually living in the United States. Outward looking it was not.
Further enhancing the diversity within the field, we’re going to hand out exemptions to the winners of the top-20 national championships around the world. If you have won, say, the Scottish Open or the Australian Open, or the South African Open, or the French Open, or the Spanish Open or the Irish Open, or the New Zealand Open, or the Canadian Open – I could go on and on – you’re in.
Right, we’re getting there. Next up are the top-10 amateurs on the unpaid world-ranking. That seems about right at a time when these guys are typically all but ready to compete at the highest level the moment they turn professional. I give you Matthew Wolff, Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland. All three left the amateur ranks only last year; all three have already won on the PGA Tour.
And now, my favourite bit. The remainder of the field is going to be made up of players I have – at best – barely heard of. Candidates for that accolade will have their names picked out of a hat until the field is full. By doing so, this US Ajar will retain some of the charm that has to be an integral part of any “Open.”
Oh, one last thing. A finishing touch, if you like. In order to improve the quality of this hopefully one-off product, no one from the USGA will be involved. Just saying.