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Amateurs

The USGA is making big changes to qualifying for its premier amateur events. Here's what you need to know

Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett holds the Havemeyer trophy after winning the 2022 U.S. Amateur at Ridgewood Country Club last August.

Grant Halverson

Getting into four of the USGA’s premier amateur championships will be both a little easier and a little harder starting in 2024.

On Wednesday, the governing body announced what it characterized as the most significant changes to its amateur championship qualifying model in more than 20 years. Starting next year, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Women’s Amateur, U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls’ Junior will adjust the number of players exempt directly into the championships as well as expand exemption categories and adjust how it conducts qualifiers to fill out the championship fields.

The biggest structural changes will occur with the U.S. Amateur, which boasts a field of 312 each year. That number will remain the same but starting in 2024, there will be two stages of qualifying for the championship: an 18-hole local qualifier at 45 sites followed by ad 18-hole final qualifier at 19 sites. Previously golfers have been competing in one 36-hole qualifier to try to earn their way in. The U.S. Amateur first employed qualifying events for the championship in 1931.

While adding another qualifier makes it a bit more onerous for some players trying to get into the field, top-ranked amateurs will have more direct access as the USGA will increase the number of players fully exempt off the World Amateur Golf Ranking from 50 to 100. Additionally, the top 600 players off the WAGR will be exempt from the local qualifying.

The USGA also will create still-to-be-determined exemptions for state, Allied Golf Association, regional and national amateur champions.

The U.S. Women’s Amateur will also increase the number of players exempt into the championship off the WAGR to the top 50 (from 25) and create new exemptions for state, AGA, regional and national champions. There will be no change in the qualifying structure (one 36-hole qualifier) but the number of qualifying sites will be reduced, adjusting for a geographic rotation.

The two junior championships will also have expanded exemption categories and increases in WAGR exemptions (top 100 from 85 for the boys; top 50 from 40 for the girls). The structure of qualifying events will be alerted to encouraged conducting joint or concurrent qualifiers.

According to Brent Paladino, USGA senior director, Championship Administration, the changes will allow the USGA to retain the openness and aspirational nature for these championships but also help address issues around administering the qualifying tournaments for the four events.

“As the number of entries and qualifying sites have continued to increase on a yearly basis, we looked at ways to evolve our structure to ensure the long-term sustainability of qualifying without excessively burdening Allied Golf Associations [AGAs] and host clubs,” Paladino said in a press release. “These revisions will provide players with additional pathways to our championships through traditional qualifying, expanded exemption categories and performance in state, AGA, regional and national amateur championships.”

In 2022, the USGA accepted 44,737 total entries and collaborated with AGAs to conduct a combined 678 qualifiers across 15 championships. The modifications will result in a net reduction of 94 qualifying sites, but according to the USGA will provide more opportunities for players to earn a spot in a championship through expanded exemptions, state/AGA amateur championships and traditional qualifying.

Additionally, the USGA intends to lower the Handicap Index limits for the four events, with a final announcement on the new numbers coming later this year. Currently you have to have a 2.4 index for the U.S. Amateur, 5.4 for the Women’s Amateur, 4.4 for the Junior Amateur and 9.4 for the Girls’ Junior.

Entries for 2024 USGA amateur championships will open next spring. The 2024 U.S. Amateur will be held at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.; the 2024 U.S. Women’s Amateur will be held at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.; while the 2024 Junior Amateur will be held at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; and the 2024 Girls’ Junior will be played at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif.