2004: British Open - WDs tarnish Congressional qualifier

Potomac, Md.

Only 61 players in an anticipated field of 120 finished the British Open’s 36-hole International Final Qualifying June 28 at Congressional Country Club. It was the first such qualifier held in the United States.

Carl Pettersson, Spike McRoy and Mathias Gronberg each shot 9-under par 134, the low score among the 15 players who qualified for the Open Championship, July 15-18 at Royal Troon. Those who shot 138 or higher and failed to qualify included Lee Janzen (140), who lost his exemption into the Open last fall when the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews lopped off five years from the 10-year exemption previously awarded U.S. Open champions, and Casey Wittenberg, the highly touted 19-year-old who was making his professional debut. Wittenberg shot 67 in his morning round but scored 7 on his 27th hole, a par 3, en route to 77–144.

What started as a 120-player field as of the May 27 entry deadline dwindled to 108 when 12 withdrawals occurred during the ensuing 27 days. Another 34 players withdrew over the June 26-27 weekend, reducing the field to 74. Seven players failed to show up for their starting times and were disqualified; another six withdrew during the competition.

“Clearly it’s a disappointment to not have a full field, but to say what we are going to do – we need to spend some time to analyze it and draw some sensible conclusions,” said Martin Kippax, deputy chairman of the R&A Championship Committee.

R&A representatives were particularly miffed with the seven players – James McLean, Todd Barranger, John Rollins, Patrick Moore, Kevin Na, Paul Stankowski and Dan Olsen – who missed their tee times and didn’t communicate with officials beforehand.

“We always take a dim view of players that don’t turn up for our championships, and I am sure we will be writing to them as we do in all our championships,” said Michael Tate, director of the R&A. “We are looking at the reason for their no-show and we will make a determination later.”

Speaking from Sunningdale, England, where another IFQ was being held the same day, David Hill, director of championships for the R&A, said a review of the British Open’s new qualifying system will be conducted.

“Anyone who withdraws has to have a good reason for withdrawing,” he said. “If we are not satisfied with that reason then the championship committee can take whatever action we feel appropriate.”

Hill said he would not rule out the R&A banning players from competing in next year’s Open Championship, including qualifiers.

Kippax said that despite the episode, the R&A remains “completely committed to final qualifying.”

“There’s no knee-jerk decision-making going to be done,” Kippax said. “Nobody here is going to tell you this is the end of U.S. qualifying. Quite the reverse is true.”

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