2004: Newsmakers - An about-face on Open qualifying
An Open letter to Royal & Ancient Golf Club secretary Peter Dawson
It’s never easy to eat humble pie, but on this occasion I must swallow my pride and accept that on the subject of Local Final Qualifying, you were right and I was wrong.
Last year, I wrote a column (May 10, 2003) slamming the Royal & Ancient Golf Club for taking the Open Championship away from the little guys of golf – the amateurs, club pros and mini-tour players. I argued vehemently that you had turned the Open Championship into a closed shop by reducing the number of spots at LFQ, formerly called Final Qualifying, from six to three. This move, I said, would close the door on lesser players, making it harder for them to gain entry to the championship.
Just to jog your memory, Peter, I wrote: “The real loser in next year’s scheme will be the little guy, especially the little guy who happens to be a very good club pro or amateur from the British Isles. From next year, the chance of a club professional or good amateur player getting a chance to play for the old Claret Jug will be just about minimal.”
As always, you were quick to take me to task. If I remember correctly, you told me on the phone in your own inimitable way that I “was talking rubbish.” Now I admit occasionally getting the odd fact wrong over the years, but I was fairly confident on this one.
I had the little guys on my side, you see. Albert Mackenzie, a club pro from Saunton Golf Club in the south of England, dubbed the game’s oldest tournament “the British Closed Championship.”
He said he would not be entering because a measly three spots from 96 wasn’t worth the £100 (approximately $185) entry fee.
Amateur John Kemp, who played in the 2001 and 2002 British Open, was even more vehement about the changes than Mackenzie.
“It’s ridiculous,” Kemp said. “They say they want the best international players but amateurs like me and good club pros are getting elbowed out. I think a lot of amateurs and club professionals like me will just not bother to enter.”
Needless to say this was good column material.
You didn’t just argue with me on the phone, you kindly sent a letter complete with statistics. You wrote:
“It appears to me that you have misunderstood the effects of the introduction of International Qualifying on Local Final Qualifying.
“With world ranked players moving to International Qualifying, there will be more (not less) opportunity for club pros and amateurs to make it through to the championship proper.”
A year later, my two strongest allies, Mackenzie and Kemp, have deserted me. Both reneged on their promise not to enter the tournament by paying their £100 fee and making it through Regional Qualifying to Local Final Qualifying. Indeed, as you rightly pointed out in a recent phone call, the numbers entering Regional and LFQ were exactly the same as last year. There was no mass protest.
Mackenzie was honest enough to admit that he, too, had got LFQ all wrong. “I’ve come full circle on Open Qualifying,” he said. “Last year, I was only looking at the basic maths. Three spots seemed ridiculous, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.
“With all the Tour players playing in those international qualifiers, it meant I had a better chance of getting into the tournament if I could make it into final qualifying. Last year, I felt I had to shoot the lights out at Royal Cinque Ports to get into the Open because there were so many good Tour players in the field. Although there were less spots this year, I felt that if I played a couple decent rounds then I had a chance.”
Mackenzie could only manage one decent round. He shot 79-66 at Turnberry’s Kintyre course and missed by eight shots. However, he was right about the field being weaker this year than last. There were no players with a full Tour card at Turnberry. It was the same at Western Gailes, where Kemp missed out after shooting 75-76.
Peter, you were spot on about LFQ giving “lesser” players a better chance of getting through because of the lack of Tour players. Glasgow Gailes had only two bona fide Tour players in Fredrik Andersson and Costantino Rocca, while Irvine also had two in Andrew Oldcorn and Sven Struever.
The proof is in the pudding. Of the 15 players who got spots into the Open Championship, I would say 12 of them are the “little guys” I said would be denied a chance to live the dream and play in the game’s greatest championship.
Peter, I apologize unreservedly for doubting your wisdom on this one, but I can’t sign off without making a recommendation. (Well, you wouldn’t expect me to, would you?)
Three players got through Local Final Qualifying who can be classed as bona fide Tour players – Oldcorn, Struever and Simon Dyson. I don’t begrudge these players their spots since they acted under the rules. I think, though, that if you want to do this properly then you should enforce a rule from next year which states that any player with a full card on either the PGA European Tour or PGA Tour should not be allowed to play in LFQ.
The big boys have so many opportunities to qualify that it doesn’t seem fair they should get to deny the little guys their one chance at getting into the championship. Keep LFQ for the little guys to ensure as many as possible get to live the dream. Let the Tour players fight it out among themselves for a place in the championship.
That is my only recommendation. I hope it does not detract from my apology in any way. You were right, I was wrong. Dead wrong.