Joe Weber - Open qualifying .jpg

Joe Weber of Onalaska battles the elements as he walks up the fourth fairway at Wild Rock GC during qualifying for the 2019 U.S. Open.

The United States Open Championship won’t be played this year.

It has been replaced by “The United States Closed Championship.”

What else can we call it? The U.S. Golf Association made official Monday what many had expected – there will be no qualifying for the U.S. Open or U.S Amateur, men’s or women’s, for the first time since 1924.

Those championships are effectively closed to competitors who aren’t already world-class professionals or amateurs, unless they become one in the next three months. (Practice hard, people!)

The USGA just kicked every dreamer to the curb and out of its tournaments, whose fields will be filled by players who receive exemptions. The USGA did not say how those exemptions will be allotted. (Lottery, anyone?) What should we expect from the exemption process? Flawed rankings (pardon the redundancy) and politics.

Without qualifying, we wouldn’t have champions Ken Venturi and Orville Moody, who advanced through two rounds of Open qualifying, or Steve Jones and Lucas Glover, champions who got into the field via sectional qualifying.

This national championship will forever be known as the U.S. Closed. Without qualifying of any kind, it doesn’t deserve the honored title of “Open.” (You won’t see that word again in the rest of this story, by the way.) The irony is that the USGA started marketing the phrase, “From Many, One,” in a nod to qualifying and Golf’s Longest Day (the 36-hole sectional qualifiers).

Yes, I understand how tough this year has been for golf. I understand all too well. I also understand there are far more important things to worry about than qualifying for some tradition-rich golf events.

It is not just golf that is taking a beating, it is golfers. The USGA has pared its schedule to a mere four tournaments in 2020 and that list doesn’t include the Senior Open, Mid-Amateur or Senior Amateur or the Junior Amateurs, among others. As diets go, that’s bread and water and maybe an occasional Snickers bar.

The fields for our biggest national championships have closed shops. It’s like the AFL-CIO took over the USGA events and made them union-only. Does it feel at all like Election Day in 1916 and the voting booths are open – oh, unless you’re a woman?

Golf has never offered less hope and fewer opportunities for players of all ages, amateur or professional. The PGA Tour rolled over its 2020 season into 2021. That means pretty much no one else can move up to the PGA Tour this season, barring a small miracle, but the guys who are already there get to enjoy approximately 1 2/3 seasons.

With the big tour effectively closed to Korn Ferry Tour graduates, the KFT canceled its Q-School and rolled over its season, too. You didn’t make it through Q-school in 2019? You’re on the sidelines until December of 2021. Now that’s a shutdown.

Monday qualifying spots for PGA Tour events were cut from four to two for the rest of this season and will return to four next season. The KFT, which cut qualifying spots from 12 to 8 before this season, has not announced whether it will have Monday qualifiers at all or if so, how many spots will be available.

The USGA national championships were the last hope for a lot of players, especially those college seniors who lost graduation ceremonies and a chance to play in the NCAA Championship and now have nowhere to go to make a living as a pro. Many will go back to school to play golf for a fifth season and were thinking, “Well, I can always qualify for a USGA championship.” Probably not now, pending the coming exemptions controversy. Will a couple of college stars get slotted into the Winged Foot field? For public relations purposes, probably.

Also missing from the USGA’s announcement was the size of the national championship’s field. It is normally 156 players but the U.S. Closed moved to mid-September at Winged Foot and that means approximately 2½ fewer hours of daylight. The field won’t be 156 unless the USGA decides to use both courses at Winged Foot for the first two rounds. (The other one is a dandy, too.) But that idea is probably too far outside the box for a group that can’t figure out a way in May to hold qualifying for an event in September.

The PGA Tour will resume play in mid-June. Most state golf associations (the ones that run USGA qualifiers) aren’t canceling their big events or state opens. If other golf events are being safely held, and we just watched four tour players raise money for charity in a live televised event last weekend, why can’t qualifiers be safely played? People all over the country have resumed playing recreational golf and no virus cases have so far been traced to any golf course, as far as we know.

The logistics don’t work for qualifying, the USGA says. It’s easy to criticize them and I believe they believe it. They’re having financial issues so you know they’d love to have 10,000-plus entries for Winged Foot at $175 a pop. That’s $1.75 million just for the men’s entries.

John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director of championships, called eliminating qualifying “an incredibly difficult decision as qualifying is a cornerstone of USGA championships,” and said the USGA “deeply regrets” making this call.

Maybe it is the right call for health reasons. New York City has been a hot mess and the epicenter of coronavirus in this country. From a lot of viewpoints in mid-May, New York City and its suburbs still seem like a risky place to hold a tournament.

The big event is still four months away, however. Even one day for 18-hole local qualifying and one day for reduced 18-hole sectional qualifying can’t be done?

The USGA will probably plead “Safety first.” I can’t argue that.

I can argue with the title of the Winged Foot tournament. It is supposed to be America’s championship but a “U.S. Closed Championship” seems un-American.

Gary Van Sickle, a University of Wisconsin grad, has covered golf since 1980, including more than 100 majors. He began his career at The Milwaukee Journal and went on to write for Golf World and Sports Illustrated, among others.

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