What Makes The U.S. Open Special
by Alex Urban | University of Georgia
On the surface, a golf tournament is a golf tournament. The player that takes the least amount of shots to get a tiny ball into a comically small hole wins. While this is true, every tournament has quirks and traditions that add a layer of complexity to the proceedings, and this is especially true of golf’s four major championships.
The Masters has the intrigue of being played yearly at Augusta National and always has the most exclusive field. The British Open Championship is played on the oldest golf courses in the world and the elements usually play a factor. The PGA Championship features club professionals that don’t usually get to play on the big stage.
The U.S. Open? It’s hard. Really hard. And any golfer with the proper qualifications — you have to actually be good — can attempt to win our nation’s championship.
The 112th U.S. Open came to a close last night at the Olympic Club in San Francisco when Graeme McDowell’s birdie bid on the 18th slid innocently by the hole, sealing the championship for Webb Simpson of North Carolina.
The championship was everything you would expect from the United States Golf Association and the U.S. Open. The course played so fast and slick that I was left wondering if they were using Zambonis on the fairways rather than mowers. The rough was reaching ZZ Top beard length. And the scores? They were high. In fact, nobody finished the weekend in red figures, just the way it should be at the U.S. Open.
The U.S. Open has an interesting niche as the most difficult championship in golf. For one week every year it is fun to watch the best in the world struggle. I am sure every golfer watching yesterday empathized with Ernie Els as his putt on 16 came right back to his feet. For us mortal golfers, that kind of stuff happens more often than it doesn’t. If Jim Furyk needs more lessons on how to properly execute the duck-hook he fired on the 16th I could absolutely help him there. 10 minutes with me and I could make that a regular part of his repertoire.
But it isn’t just the difficulty that makes the U.S. Open a special championship. If you were paying attention over the weekend, you probably noticed 17-year-old amateur Beau Hossler contending until the final day, 23-year-old LSU graduate John Peterson coming up just short of Simpson, 14-year-old Andy Zhang becoming the youngest U.S. Open player and Jordan Spieth winning low-amateur honors. Why were these lesser-known players at Olympic Club over the weekend? Because anyone can qualify for the U.S. Open if they are good enough. And in my opinion, it makes the U.S. Open the major with the most interesting field of players.
If you have a handicap of 1.4 or lower — like I said earlier, if you are really, really good — you can attempt to make the 156-man U.S. Open field. This year, 9,006 people attempted to do just that, and most failed. Sometimes the qualifiers are well known, like Davis Love III, and sometimes they are unknowns, such as Ohioan Dennis Miller. But they all have the same thing in common; they earned their spot to play for the nation’s championship.
Having qualifiers in the field changes the dynamic of the championship, paving the way for the “Cinderella Story.” It is important to remember that the margin that separates golfers at the highest level is razor-thin. For example, John Peterson’s world ranking looks more like a phone number than a ranking. Yet he contended until the last shot, while world No. 1 Luke Donald watched from his couch after missing the cut.
Allowing qualifiers into a major golf championship gives players a shot at something they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, and it is all based on individual performance. While qualifiers don’t often win, the fact that they sometimes succeed only further justifies their legitimacy. For example, Lucas Glover won as an alternate in 2009 and Michael Campbell accomplished the feat in 2005.
It just makes sense that the U.S. Open would have the qualifying system. Is there anything more American? If you work hard, hone your talent and prove yourself in an objective fashion, you earn your way into the field. If we are a country of rugged individualists, the U.S. Open qualifier would make Herbert Hoover proud. If you play well, you get in. If you don’t play well, you get to watch on TV. It’s that simple. There is nobody to blame but yourself, and if you succeed, you get all the credit.
The USGA should be proud of its championship and the way it reflects American culture and achievement. Between the qualifiers and its reputation for being the most thorough and difficult test in golf, the U.S. Open is firmly planted as one of the most unique sporting events on Earth.Alex Urban is a NGJ Voices Contributor and Public Relations Master's student at the University of Georgia. He graduated from Clemson University in 2011 and was the editor of Clemson's school paper's (The Tiger News) opinions section. He is interested in a wide range of topics from international relations to sports and pop culture.