2004: Qualifying WDs irk officials, players

Qualifying for the British Open will return to the United States in 2005, but not without some changes.

The fate of the one-day, 36-hole International Final Qualifying event was being questioned after half the field either withdrew or failed to show for the inaugural American session June 28 at Congressional Country Club.

Officials from the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews were extremely unhappy that only 61 players, in an anticipated field of 120, completed the 36 holes. Twelve players withdrew well in advance; 34 pulled out over the weekend before the Monday competition; seven were disqualified when they failed to show for their starting times; and six withdrew during the competition.

“We were surprised and obviously disappointed by having so many withdrawals,” said Peter Dawson, secretary of the R&A.

Dawson admitted to a touch of anger but said it would not cloud the R&A’s judgment on the future of the IFQ system, which this year included qualifiers in South Africa, Australia, Malaysia and England. “We have a rule here that you never do anything when you are angry,” he said.

Dawson and other R&A officials held a lengthy postmortem July 1.

“There is no question about not continuing with IFQ,” Dawson said. “We just have to understand what has happened in America and why, with a view to seeing if we need to alter the structure of things rather than ditch it.”

One option being considered for next year is offering fewer spots if an IFQ venue fails to attract a full field.

Fifteen spots were allocated to Congressional, a number that couldn’t be changed once it had been announced (before the WDs occurred). Next year, the number of spots may not be announced until play, giving the R&A time to assess strength of field.

Dawson said the R&A will not take action this year against players who failed to show. He said the PGA Tour has assured him it will review the episode and “send us their views when they have had time to talk to everyone. They were both surprised and disappointed about what happened.”

Many players queried at the Western Open said they were embarrassed by the poor turnout at Congressional.

“The no-shows are inexcusable,” said Glen Day, who tied for 43rd at the Booz Allen Classic, shot 70-67 the next day at Congressional and qualified for Troon, then finished T-71 at the Western. “As a professional athlete, you should have enough class to call. You owe them that.”

Day said the no-shows should be fined by the PGA Tour.

“Guys need to quit whining,” he said. “The R&A gave them an opportunity to play in a major event.

If you don’t want to do it, don’t enter.

I have to apologize for my fellow constituents being idiots.”

Tour rookie Dan Olsen was an IFQ Monday no-show. He had withdrawn from the Booz Allen because of “fatigue” and said that when he remembered to call Congressional, he didn’t have the phone number.

“It’s bad that only half showed up,” Olsen said. “It gives them (the R&A) a false impression. It’s not our intention that we don’t want to play. First-year players can’t go play there. I’ve got to worry about my money here.”

Olsen then took the offensive, claiming that American players often are treated poorly on foreign tours.

“Anybody who doesn’t say that is a kiss-ass,” he said. “Tell the R&A that if it wasn’t for The Golf Channel, nobody would even know they played the European Tour.”

Steve Elkington was among the 15 qualifiers at Congressional. In 2002, he lost in the British Open playoff at Muirfield, six days after making the field via local qualifying.

“It’s a disgrace,” Elkington said of the Congressional episode. “It’s a micro snapshot of what’s wrong with young players. If you’re not willing to try it, how can you be recognized as a good player?

“It’s all about money. Some young players have so much money, it’s gotten to the point where going to the British Open is an inconvenience.”

Scott McCarron missed the Booz Allen cut, failed to qualify for the British, then tied for 47th at the Western – but said “I’m very happy I went” to Congressional.

“To be able to qualify in the United States is a win-win,” he said. “They did get 15 good PGA Tour players, which will make their field better. It’s the first year (of the IFQ). Let’s work through these problems. I don’t think it’ll happen again.”

– Jeff Rude contributed

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