. For nearly 100 years, the hallmark of the United States Open was the qualification process. It's an integral part of the nature of the Open, as the tournament is open to everyone – provided they have an official handicap index of 1.4 or higher.
Usually the Open field consists of 156 players, half of whom qualify through previous performances and the other half through a series of grueling qualifying rounds. The Open is played on some of the best courses in the country, under the most rigorous conditions imaginable, but the need to first qualify through superlative play is paramount.
It is this requirement of the championship that clearly distinguishes the Open as the most democratic of all golf tournaments.
Typically there are 9,000 to 10,000 candidates for local qualifying at approximately 115 locations across the country, with successful qualifying tournaments reaching up to 10 regional qualifying sites in the United States. There are also additional international qualifying rounds, with regionals in Canada, England and Japan. Most years, about 78 players are completely exempt from the championship and qualify in different categories: winners of the most important tournaments of the past years, winners of other U.S.G.A. events in the past year, high finishers on various money lists and the like.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S.G.A. canceled all qualifications and replaced by deliberately selecting players who had been chosen from various golf performance lists for about half of the field, while the other half came from the completely exempt categories as usual. Due to the change of dates for the tournament – to mid-September from mid-June – the field has been reduced to 144 players, due to the fact that there are fewer hours of sunlight available in the fall than in the summer, which is crucial for completing the first two rounds with a much larger field of participants
The aim was to reflect – as closely as possible – the average composition of the different player categories over the past years and to bring the game into the available light. John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of the U.S.G.A., responsible for the Open, acknowledged that the goal was to reflect the average composition of recent years. “This has been a very challenging year, and it is very disappointing to go without qualifying,” he said.
However, the USGA's category selections were somewhat arbitrary, for example the inclusion of players this year. outside the official World Golf Ranking list was increased from 60 to 70; 13 amateurs, always a fixture in the Open, were included, out of 18 who made their way to the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, NY
Without the qualifying rounds, there will be none beautiful, compelling stories about the young assistant pro at a small club who overcomes every chance to qualify or the heartwarming story of the senior amateur who first played in the Open 25 years earlier and eventually came back. The U.S.G.A. loves to make those people known.
Also missing are the ultimate Cinderella stories – the players who had to go through the qualifying rounds and then won the US Open – Ken Venturi in 1964, Orville Moody in 1969, Steve Jones in 1996, Michael Campbell in 2005 and Lucas Glover in 2009.
Due to the abolition of local and sectional qualification, this year's Open will be an invitation-only tournament. But the winner's name will appear there on the U.S. Open trophy with the greats of the game. His scores go to the official U.S.G.A. record book and he will also receive the same gold medal as those legendary players.
As a counterpoint, consider the case of the 1942 Open. It was called the Hale America Open, but it became known as the Wartime U.S. Open. It was conducted by the USGA, with assistance from the Chicago District Golf Association and the PGA of America, and was played at the Ridgemoor Country Club in Chicago on the traditional mid-June dates for the US Open.
Most significantly, it included local and sectional qualifications performed by the USGA
. Almost all top players were present; players who had already won a major or would win one. Bobby Jones even got out of retirement to play.
No doubt it had all the trappings of the US Open.
Ben Hogan won by three strokes over Mike Turnesa and Jimmy Demaret, and four over Byron Nelson, who shot 17 under par 271 for the tournament. Hogan's Open appeared in the official record book for years. And the gold medal Hogan received from U.S.G.A. President George Blossom was visually identical to the other four he would go on to win. There was one very minor exception: the background of a small field of stars on the front of the medal, about half the size of a pinkie nail, is not painted blue as is normal in the ones that winners get for winning the Open.
The threshold question then is, if this year's US Open, without local and sectional qualification – the basic tenet of the US Open – is considered official, Hogan's name should not be added to the iconic trophy and have records also been restored to the official record book?
Hogan always believed he had won five US Opens, although USGA removed the 1942 victory from their record book and did not engrave his name on the trophy. Recovering his fifth title would also change another piece of Open history: Hogans 62 in the second round would also rank as the lowest score in the history of the tournament.