2004: Our Opinion - Going global has its glitches

The winner won’t hoist the Claret Jug at the 133rd British Open Championship until July 18, but the competition has been going on since Jan. 8. That’s when contestants teed off in Cape Town, South Africa, in the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews’ first International Final Qualifying event for the big show at Royal Troon.

The R&A introduced a new qualifying system this year, creating IFQ events in South Africa, Australia, Malaysia, England and the United States. It reduced to 12 (from 28) the Open berths available through traditional Local Final Qualifying.

The IFQ events are limited to players who hold Official World Golf Ranking points and are not otherwise exempt into the Open Championship. Club pros, mini-tour players and scratch amateurs can still take the Local Qualifying route.

The new system was devised to enable the R&A to attract the strongest possible field for the Open Championship, keeping it, as R&A secretary Peter Dawson has said, “in its rightful position as the most international and prestigious championship in the world.”

Now the U.S. Golf Association has followed suit, announcing June 23 that U.S. Open sectional qualifying events will be played in Europe and Asia in 2005. This year, 130 players from overseas who had earned exemptions into sectional qualifying did not compete because of the inconvenience and/or cost of travel to the United States.

As the USGA works out details of the June 6, 2005 “global qualifiers,” it can learn from the R&A, whose transition to a global system hasn’t been entirely smooth. As part of the R&A’s slicing and dicing to spread the wealth, it made several revisions to the exempt categories for Open qualification. Among those changes were the rollback to a five-year exemption (from 10 years) for U.S. Open champions, and a rollback to a three-year exemption (from five years) for Volvo PGA Champions. As a result, former U.S. Open champions Lee Janzen, Corey Pavin and Steve Jones, and former Volvo PGA winner Andrew Oldcorn lost their exemptions for Troon. Adding injury to insult, the R&A failed to notify those players that they had lost their status.

“They didn’t have the decency to write,” Oldcorn told The Scotsman newspaper. “I found out about it last November only by reading the entry form. It’s history now, but I was extremely annoyed.”

Meanwhile, the R&A had every reason to be miffed June 28 when half the field entered in the IFQ event at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., either withdrew in the days leading up to the tournament, failed to show for their tee times or withdrew after 18 holes. That development demonstrates a lack of respect not only for the Open Championship, but also toward the R&A, which revamped the system partly to accommodate players who had been disinclined to cross the Atlantic to participate in Local Final Qualifying.

The R&A and USGA are to be applauded for accommodating the globalization of golf. Unfortunately, some members of the game’s elite failed in their obligation to reciprocate.

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