The USGA should take a page out of the R&A’s playbook when it comes to qualifying for its premier event.
As a matter of fact, the USGA should expand on it.
The R&A runs a six-tournament series on the PGA Tour, ours not theirs, with the top two players earning a spot into the British Open. That six-tournament series ended on Sunday with Marc Leishman, the Travelers Championship winner and Troy Kelly, Sunday’s playoff loser, earning spots in the field for the Open Championship.
They will be joined by Ted Potter Jr., who gets in from the Greenbrier Classic as the highest finisher not otherwise exempt into the championship. The highest finisher this week (probably the guy who finishes second to three-time defending champion Steve Stricker) at the John Deere not otherwise exempt will get a spot on the charter jet from Moline on Sunday night as well.
The players on the PGA Tour not otherwise exempt into the British Open are fully aware of this possibility. This is one of those situations where everyone wins.
The British Open gets players into the field that are at the top of their game. Furthermore, the media in the U.S. – particularly on the live network coverage – keep viewers up-to-date on who is going to earn a spot into the Open.
For the players here in the States it is another opportunity to play in a major. A six-tournament series is certainly a better barometer of who is playing well than a one-day qualifier.
So why doesn’t the USGA create a similar system on the PGA Tour leading into the U.S. Open? The simplest and most logical way to do it would be to choose the five tournaments leading into the U.S. Open starting with the Players. The reasons for doing this obviously would be to draw attention to the event and to guarantee that deserving players earn spots. To add even more excitement you could end the series with the Memorial, the day before the 36-hole qualifier. A high finish at the Memorial would save a player from the marathon the next day.
This year, Spencer Levin took the lead into the back nine on Sunday at the Memorial. We all remember Tiger’s heroics and Levin had to tee it up the next day in a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier where he was simply spent and failed to earn a spot. He then missed the cut at the Fed Ex St. Jude but still got into the U.S. Open based on the top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings. This happened because he moved from 61st to 60th in the world after the missed cut in Memphis. I would explain how that happened if I could but it has to do with devisors and algorithms.
If I were in charge, I would take it even a step further and give a spot to the top one or two players in money on the Web.com Tour (formerly Nationwide). Combined with the PGA Tour spots, we are only talking about five or six spots total in the field of 156. You get those spots from the qualifiers. At present the two “PGA Tour Qualifiers” have as many as 22 spots each so to take a few and give them to successful PGA Tour players makes sense.
This would not in any way diminish the great stories that we get every year at the U.S. Open. The insurance salesman and the high-school phenomenon would still have the same opportunities to live the dream of playing the U.S. Open. But in this era where the phrase de jour is “grow the game” adding excitement grows the game. Furthermore it increases the profile of the U.S. Open in the weeks leading up to the event.
We will watch the John Deere Classic this week with added excitement knowing that someone has one last chance to earn a spot into one of the game’s most prestigious events. Kyle Stanley did it last year when Steve Stricker proved once again that he owns the John Deere. Four days later, Stanley opened with a 68 and found himself on the leaderboard at the British Open.
I am sure that there are some decent arguments for the USGA not to follow suit with the R&A on this one. I just can’t seem to think of any at the moment.