PHOENIX, ARIZONA | USGA officials, at their organizations annual meetings, announced a surprising number of changes to the exemption categories for the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open to be implemented over the next two years. For starters, the top 50 players on the current Official World Golf Ranking as of June 13, 2011 will be fully exempt from the 2011 U.S. Open. This is in addition to the top 50 as of May 23, 2011. This effectively gives players a second chance to earn a spot in the field. The hope is to prevent a repeat of what happened last year when Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler were left out of the 2010 Open due to the timing cutoff.
The USGA also revised an exemption category for both the men’s and women’s Opens in 2011. Previously, the lowest 15 scorers and ties from those championships received a full exemption the following year. But that number has been reduced to low 10 and ties.
Another change, which goes into effect for the 2012 U.S. Open, is the elimination of full exemptions based on pro golf money lists. Instead, the USGA will utilize the world rankings, with the top 60 being exempt.
“Trying to evaluate the strength of one Tour against another has become increasingly difficult as the game has grown globally,” said USGA senior official Mike Davis. “(This move) will eliminate this subjective task that the USGA annually faced.”
As the USGA moves toward using the Official World Golf Ranking for exemptions into the U.S. Open field, however, it will continue to use money lists to determine exemptions for the U.S. Women’s Open. But it will increase the number of players from the LPGA Tour money list who are fully exempt in 2011 from 50 to 70.
“It is our intent in the future to move away from exemptions based on various money lists and use the world rankings for the Women’s Open, too,” says Davis. “(But) we are not quite ready to do so and believe that the ranking system, which is currently going through some evaluation and improvement, will be a very solid indicator of the best women players in the world in the next year or two. The men’s world rankings existed for some 10 years before the USGA adopted them for the U.S. Open, so a delay for us to get totally comfortable with the system is not unprecedented.”
Though the addition of 20 more exempt players will mean fewer spots for sectional qualifiers in the Women’s Open field, Davis believes the strength of the field will be improved by this change.
With the PGA Tour concurrently in Phoenix for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, USGA officials met to discuss rules issues that arose after Padraig Harrington and Camilio Villegas were disqualified from different tournaments early this year. USGA president Jim Hyler, USGA vice president and Rules of Golf Committee chairman Glen Nager and Davis met for 90 minutes with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to get his perspective. That meeting came the day after Nager and Davis dined with other PGA Tour officials.
“We are trying to learn all we can and understand all the issues as we determine the best ways to resolve them,” said Nager. He added that while the USGA wants to do this as quickly as possible, it also want to make sure it gets things right. “Some could be resolved before the new rule book comes out next January, while others could take longer.”
As anticipated, the USGA announced its support of the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR). They will now be called the R&A/USGA World Amateur Rankings, and the USGA will begin using them this season as one of its exemption categories for its men’s amateur championships. Next year, the USGA expects to start employing the new Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking as one means of gaining entry into its women’s amateur championships. In 2011 and beyond, the top 50 in the men’s WAGR will be exempt into any USGA amateur championship for which they are eligible, with that same formula applying to the women’s championships as of 2012.
The WAGR is already used as an entry standard for numerous championships around the world, including the (British) Amateur and European Amateur Championships. It has also become a weekly point of reference for players, championship organizers and golf fans and is supported by governing bodies and tournament administrators worldwide.
According to Davis, the move has been under consideration for some time, but it was only with the launch of the women’s WAGR that this became possible.
In addition, the USGA announced that Mexican, Canadian, and Asian Amateur champions would be exempt into the U.S. Amateur beginning in 2011.
This year’s annual meeting marked the debut of the newest member of the USGA’s Nominating Committee, former U.S. Secretary of State and Stanford University professor Condoleezza Rice. Rice was in Phoenix Thursday and Friday, helping Nominating Committee head Fred Ridley and his group identify and interview prospective Executive Committee members and USGA officers. Rice is an avid golf who is often seen hitting golf balls at the range at the Stanford University. Colleagues described her as engaged and informed and say she really seemed to enjoy herself.
According to Hyler, the Association stopped accepting applications Feb. 4th for the position of Executive Director that was vacated when David Fay retired at the end of 2001 and is now considering some three dozen candidates from in and outside the organization. Interviews will begin shortly, and Hyler expects a decision on a replacement to be made within the next two months.
The USGA hopes to honor Fay and his longtime service in some significant way this year. “David did not want to leave with any fanfare or take a victory lap,” Hyler says. “But we will give him the appropriate recognition at the appropriate time, after we get the next person in the saddle.”
“Flat is the new up.” That is how Hyler described the state of corporate sales for the 2011 U.S. Open, which is being held at Congressional Country Club in Washington D.C. “We have had to significantly reset our expectations regarding corporate support for our U.S. Opens the past few years,” he added.
As difficult as that part of the market may have become, the USGA seems to have found a way to adjust. And quite ably, as the organization recorded $14.5 million in profits for fiscal 2010, its best ever year. Part of that was a result of the financial success of last year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Hyler said, as well as “prudent” management.
Not surprisingly, Hyler was elected to serve a second, one-year term as president of the USGA. The association also named four officers: Nager and Thomas O’Toole as vice presidents, Geoffrey Yang as secretary and Steve Smyers as treasurer. In addition, the USGA brought three new members onto its Executive Committee: William W. Gist IV, Edward G. Michaels III and Diana M. Murphy.
Various constituencies in golf are calling on the USGA to move its focus from “preserving and protecting” the game to growing the game. But Hyler disagrees. He believes that there are plenty of organizations whose sole focus is on growth, and that the primary contribution the USGA can make to grow the game is to “adhere to our core mission, flawlessly.”
In recounting his work last year as senior technical director at the USGA, Dick Rugge revealed that the association reviewed 3,345 different golf clubs and 1,171 different golf balls in 2010. Those numbers were up 20 percent and 14 percent respectively from 2009, proving that the technological wheels continue to turn rather frantically in the world of golf.
An emotional Lorena Ochoa received the Bob Jones Award at the dinner following the annual meeting Feb. 5th. Presented each year since 1955, it is the organization’s highest honor and given in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship. Ochoa raised an interesting similarity in her moving acceptance speech between her and the man after whom the award is named – both chose to retire from competitive golf when they were 28 years old. Another connection is that both players left on the highest possible notes, with Jones packing it in after winning the Grand Slam in 1930 and Ochoa doing so while she was still ranked No. 1 in the world.
Eighty-nine-year-old Inez “Nez” Muhleman accepted the Joe Dey Award Saturday night for her many years of service as a USGA volunteer. A lung cancer survivor, Muhleman served for 31 years on the U.S. Junior Girls Committee and estimated that she has put in a total of 1,500 volunteer days for golf.
Dr. Patricia Cornett, 56, of Mill Valley, Calif., has been selected as the captain of the 2012 USA Curtis Cup team. Cornett was a member of two USA Curtis Cup Teams, in 1978 and 1988. She has played in more than 50 USGA championships, starting with the 1971 U.S. Girls’ Junior and including eight U.S. Women’s Open Championships. Corbett was the runner-up at the 1987 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and was a semifinalist in that championship in 1992 and 1999. She also advanced to the semifinals of the 1976 and 1992 U.S. Women’s Amateurs.
The 2012 Curtis Cup will be played June 8-11 at Nairn Golf Club in Nairn, Scotland. That will come two years after the USA won its seventh consecutive Curtis Cup with a 12½ to 7½ victory at Essex County Club in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass., giving the USA a 27-6-3 overall record in the match.