HOW DOES THE USGA determine who gets a special exemption into the U.S. Open? However the USGA championship committee wants to.
Each situation has a different set of circumstances. Tom Watson was granted a special exemption this year based on the strength of his 2009 British Open performance at Turnberry. Plus, old Tom has some compelling history at Pebble Beach, where he snatched the national crown from four-time U.S. Open champion Jack Nicklaus in 1982. (I wish I had a buck for every time I’ve seen Tom’s chip-in for birdie on 17. Jack must still have nightmares 28 years later.)
Watson is a former U.S. Open champion and eight-time major winner, a sentimental favorite who can also contend at the age of 60. That’s an ideal set of circumstances for granting a special exemption.
Awarded a special exemption today, three-time major winner Vijay Singh is a fuzzier choice for me. I’m not saying I’m opposed to it, but the injury-plagued Veej, still an everyday PGA Tour player, certainly caught a break from the USGA after falling out of the top 50 in the world golf rankings. The special exemption will allow Singh to bypass a 36-hole sectional qualifier. Those aren’t fun. And his consecutive majors streak is still alive at 63 and soon to be 64.
Ben Hogan was the first player to be granted a U.S. Open special exemption in 1966. Hogan was 53 and still a good player who had the twitches on the greens. A 36-hole qualifier was out of the question 17 years after a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus banged up Hogan so severely that walking was a minor miracle. In fact, Ben had not played a U.S. Open since 1961 when he teed it up at the Olympic Club in June of ’66. How’d the old warhorse do? He finished 12th.
There were no more U.S. Open special exemptions until 1977. Now they’re doled out on an annual basis.
−The Armchair Golfer
(Image: Steve and Sara Emry/Flickr)