No one is happy. When you talk to those involved in the Sophie’s Choice the USGA faced this week, they all exhibit familiar traits of grief – placid features around faraway eyes with wobbly voices on an emotional edge.
That’s because American golf’s ruling body stands where it has never been – a place where the respective men’s and women’s opens in 2020 will be anything but.
On Monday, the USGA announced that it “will conduct four championships in 2020, all at their originally scheduled sites. In early April, the USGA announced that the 120th U.S. Open will be played at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, from Sept. 17-20, and the 75th U.S. Women’s Open will be played at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas, from Dec. 10-13.”
The other two championships are the U.S. Women’s Amateur, slated for Aug. 3-9 at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland, and the U.S. Amateur, scheduled for Aug. 10-16 at Bandon Dunes in Oregon. Canceled are both U.S. men’s and women’s senior amateurs, both men’s and women’s U.S. senior opens, both men’s and women’s U.S. mid-amateurs and both boys’ and girls’ U.S. juniors.
Those cancellations were expected. It’s impossible to conduct a full summer of USGA competitions with some governors putting coronavirus-based restrictions in place that limit commerce and effectively shut down public recreation.
The U.S. Open will, for the first time in its history, be an invitational. So will the U.S. Women’s Open and the respective amateurs.
But then came the kicker. The USGA announced that, “all four (remaining) championships will be conducted without qualifying, which means the fields will be filled entirely through exemptions.”
The U.S. Open will, for the first time in its history, be an invitational. So will the U.S. Women’s Open and the respective amateurs, all of which have offered some form of qualification since their inception. The U.S. Amateur, which is the oldest national golf championship in the country and was the catalyst for the formation of the USGA, was created to end debate about this or that club’s best player being the “national champion.” It exists to take subjectivity out of the equation.
To show how seriously the USGA took the openness of its opens, the organization launched a full-throated marketing campaign early in this golf season with the tagline “From Many, One.” Actor Don Cheadle, in the first of what was to be a series of ads, said, “Think about it: Where else can you watch one man out of nearly 10,000 use up every ounce of their mind, body and will to achieve their dreams?”
The dreams may be the same, but 9,860 of those 10,000 won’t have the chance to live them … at least not this year.
Some past USGA champions are none too pleased. Within minutes of the news, Laura Baugh, who was the youngest winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur when she captured the title in 1971 at age 16 (a record she held until Lydia Ko won it in 2012 at 15) wrote a Facebook post that read: “I’m a supporter of the USGA but if the U.S. Open does not have open qualifying, it is not a U.S. Open.”
They get it. Within an hour of the announcement, John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of competitions for the USGA, told GGP+, “If I tried, I could not overstate how heartbreaking this decision has been for us.
“There were a number of factors,” Bodenhamer said, “and one of them is that with any (competition) that we conduct, there is a need to test and to implement robust health and safety protocols. The inability to do (uniform testing) at 660 qualifying sites, several hundred of those that would have been rescheduled into a timeframe that was already getting jampacked with other things, presented (insurmountable challenges). Those venues and our allied golf associations have lost revenue; they’re struggling; they’ve canceled events; they need to run events; they need to generate revenue, just as the host venues for those qualifiers need to do their own things.”
Revenue at the USGA was never mentioned but those on the outside believe it played a role. It is widely believed that the USGA has a big financial incentive to conduct the U.S. Open in some fashion this year. Fox television network pays a healthy sum for the delivery of the event. No tournament means no revenue, which likely would put a healthy dent in future operating budgets.
That is not to insinuate that this was purely a financial decision. As Bodenhamer emphasized, “health and safety are and always will be the first and most important considerations.”
But U.S. Open qualifying has been conducted through depressions, recessions, wars, protests, plagues and pestilence, only shutting down during the two world wars. Tony Manero won the championship at Baltusrol during the height of the Dust Bowl, a year when Okies fled their state like Israelites out of Egypt. Lee Trevino beat Jack Nicklaus by four shots at Oak Hill the year the Vietnam war hit its zenith. And “the Sarge,” Orville Moody, won his lone major championship by a shot ahead of Deane Beman, Al Geiberger and Bob Rosberg the same year the Hong Kong Flu killed 100,000 Americans and 1 million people worldwide.
Those Opens were open.
Despite everyone’s desires for another outcome, this one will be different.
The USGA will do its best to craft exempt fields that reflect what qualifying might have produced, with a smattering of top amateurs and a broad cross-section of professionals in its opens and a complement of accomplished international juniors, college players, mid-ams and seniors in the amateur championships. But there will be plenty who don’t get the call who will howl at the unfairness. And no one will argue the point.
“No one is happy about this,” Bodenhamer said. “The championships will definitely have a different feel to them. But this is one year. Hopefully, once this is past, we can get back to something approaching normal.”
Top Photo: John Mummert, Copyright USGA
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