2005: Our Opinion - USGA exemption check

Earning a berth in the U.S. Amateur Championship has never been an easy task. It’s become especially difficult in the era of the global game.

The U.S. Golf Association received 7,320 entries from around the world for this year’s Amateur, to be held Aug. 22-28 at Merion Golf Club. In a starting field of 312, only 28 exempt contestants did not have to earn their spots via local qualifying.

Increasingly, those who do make it through local qualifying aren’t “locals.”

The top two qualifiers at Tennent, N.J., are from Australia. Two spots in Warwick, R.I., also went to Australians.

Two of the three qualifiers in Marshall, Mich., are from Spain. The third is from Ireland.

A co-medalist at Hunt Valley, Md., is from Italy. The medalist at Lake Charles, La., hails from South Africa.

There are 13 categories for exemptions into the U.S. Amateur, 12 of which are related to performance in other USGA competitions. The lone exception is the current year’s winner of the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship. Perhaps it’s time for the USGA to consider the rest of the amateur golf universe and award exemptions to the winners of national tournaments with histories of excellence, such as the Sunnehanna Amateur, Monroe Invitational, Porter Cup, Northeast Amateur, Southern Amateur, Pacific Coast Amateur and Western Amateur. Or perhaps a points scheme could be devised, awarding exemptions to the 10 players (not otherwise exempt) who accumulate the most points via performance in a select group of non-USGA tournaments.

Additional exemptions would go a long way toward ensuring the strongest field possible for the U.S. Amateur. With more proven players earning exemptions, local qualifying would revert to being more “local,” as was the original intent of the dispersion of venues by geography.

The addition of exemptions could be applied, to a lesser extent (because there are fewer national tournaments for women), to the U.S. Women’s Amateur. And certainly it would work for the U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls’ Junior.

Some USGA types are miffed that high-profile youngsters are beginning to pick and choose spots to qualify for the Junior championships, presumably looking for weaker fields and thus enhancing their chances of qualifying. In reality, American Junior Golf Association tournaments and other events often conflict with USGA qualifiers.

Adding exemptions for winners of AJGA “majors” and national tournaments such as the Orange Bowl, Western Junior and the Junior PGA would accomplish the same things for the USGA Juniors – strengthen the fields and restore the “local” to local qualifying.

Never before has the amateur and junior landscape been so competitive. And never before has the tournament calendar been so crowded. For the good of the game, the USGA needs to reach out to amateur and junior golf’s other constituencies. It’s the only organization with the power to bring order to the chaos.

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