DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — When it comes to the U.S. Open, winning the Memorial doesn’t mean jack.
No one can appreciate that like Justin Rose.
He shot a bogey-free 66 in tough conditions at Muirfield Village for his first victory on American soil, beating the strongest field so far this year among regular PGA Tour events and getting endless plaudits from tournament host Jack Nicklaus. He moved up to No. 33 in the world. The next day, Rose couldn’t finish among the top 15 at a U.S. Open qualifier to lock up a tee time at Pebble Beach.
Few things about the U.S. Open are ever fair.
The humor in all this came from his wife, Kate, who couldn’t help but notice that Rose most likely will be exempt for the U.S. Open next year through either world rankings or money lists. He just can’t play in the one that starts next week.
“How screwed up is that?” said Ben Curtis after he qualified at the Columbus sectional. “How do you not get the 30th-ranked player in the world? It just blows my mind.”
But it shouldn’t.
This is not to be mistaken with the PGA Championship, which strives through unwritten rules to get as many of the top 100 players in the world. The U.S. Open is supposed to be the toughest test in golf, not have the toughest field in golf.
“I keep saying this until I’m blue in the face,” David Fay said Tuesday as he drove to the Curtis Cup. “It’s not the best field in golf. It never pretended to be. It’s the most democratic championship. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have special exemptions. But if you can keep half the field open to qualifiers … that’s why we have 9,000 entries.”
That’s what major championship golf used to be all about.
The most famous example might be Ben Hogan winning the Masters and U.S. Open in 1953, then having to qualify for the British Open in the summer before he could win the claret jug at Carnoustie. Two of the last five U.S. Open champions – Michael Campbell in 2005 and Lucas Glover last year – earned a spot through qualifying.
Still, this one doesn’t pass the smell test.
Kenny Perry won the Memorial two years ago and didn’t play the U.S. Open because he didn’t want to. Perry never liked Torrey Pines, and he sure didn’t like the idea of a 36-hole qualifier at age 48. In that case, no one felt terribly outraged.
This case has the attention of the USGA. Fay said he expects USGA officials to review its U.S. criteria after the champion is crowned at Pebble Beach, although he offered no promises what they would do, if anything.
“Anytime we don’t sit down and try to learn, then we’re nuts,” he said. “We’ll definitely be exploring that.”
But it’s not the simple. It’s not always that equitable.
The reason the USGA’s cutoff for top 50 in the world is a month before the U.S. Open is to figure out how many spots should be allocated for 13 sectional qualifying sites across the country. For the U.S. Open, college kids should have every right as a PGA Tour player.
Even so, it’s easy to make an exception for the Memorial, which typically has one of the best fields in golf on one of the top courses, is run by the greatest name in golf (Jack Nicklaus) and is played just two weeks before the U.S. Open.
The USGA can alter its criteria to find a spot for the Memorial champion without causing any problems. Remember, Bo Van Pelt and Bill Haas were among the players who could have been exempt from qualifying had they won because it would have been their second victory since the last U.S. Open.
The Masters saves room for PGA Tour winners until the very last week, although it never has a full field. It rarely has 100 players. The British Open takes the leading player not already eligible from among the top 10 at the two PGA Tour and European Tour events before the British Open.
It can be done.
Considering what Nicklaus means to the game and the prestige with which he runs the Memorial – not to mention that he is a four-time U.S. Open champion – the USGA should offer an exemption to the Memorial winner.
Either way, it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for Rose, or even 21-year-old Rickie Fowler, who was runner-up at Muirfield Village and missed qualifying by six shots. They had their chances to qualify all year. The U.S. Open takes the top 30 from the PGA Tour money list, the top 15 from the European Tour money list. It takes the leading two players not already eligible from this year’s money list. It takes the top 50 in the world ranking.
Rose had ample chance to avoid going through qualifying. Maybe he can do better next year. There were 15 spots available in his sectional, and one of them went to an amateur. The other went to Hugo Leon of Chile, whose career consists of one Nationwide Tour event and one PGA Tour event, not including Q-school, where he tied for 108th.
“That’s the way it is. Everyone knows the rules,” Stuart Appleby said, referring to Rose’s failures. “But if you keep playing good golf like that, you certainly won’t be missing out on many majors.”
Just not this one.