PHOENIX -- Four years ago I was working on a profile for Golf World on career amateur Trip Kuehne. Among the story's themes was how Kuehne tried to balance his family life, his business career and his quest to win a USGA championship. During my reporting, he mentioned something that has stuck with me regarding these national championships. For as difficult as it was to actually work you way through a match-play bracket and have a chance at winning a title, Kuehne contended, it's maybe just as hard to simply earn a spot into one of these events.
"You've got to play in a qualifier with dozens of people in the field and you're usually playing for less spots than you can count on your hands," said Kuehne, who later that year went on to win the U.S. Mid-Amateur title. "People don't get enough credit for actually qualifying for a USGA championship in the first place. It's pretty damn hard."
For elite amateur golfers, however, that process will be significantly less stressful going forward thanks to the path the USGA has chosen to follow with the creation of several new exemption categories into its amateur championship revealed at the USGA Annual Meeting.
Laying the foundation for these new categories is the USGA's decision to partner with the R&A in support of the World Amateur Golf Ranking. The two governing bodies will jointly oversee both the men's ranking, which the R&A established in 2006, and a newly created women's ranking set to debut this month.
In turn starting this year male golfers in the top 50 in the WAGR at the close of entries to any USGA men's amateur event they are already eligible to compete in (Amateur, APL, Mid-Amateur, Senior Amateur and Junior Amateur) will receive entry into the tournament and be exempt from all qualifying. Additionally, golfers in the WAGR top 50 at the close of entries for the U.S. Open will also be exempt into sectional qualifying for the major championship, bypassing the local qualifying stage.
Mike Davis, USGA senior director of rules and competitions, said the creation of exempt categories based on a player rankings had been under discussion by the USGA executive committee for some time in an effort to help strengthen the field at the USGA's amateur championships. Davis noted that securing the participation of top international players had been particularly difficult in recent years because of the costs in time and money to fly to the U.S. ahead of an event to participate in a qualifier and risking the chance of failing to secure a spot in the championship field.
Similar exemptions for female players into the USGA's women's amateur events will be established in the future, according to Davis, after the women's world amateur ranking has time to develop and be reviewed.
Davis said the USGA would review how the exemption was working over the course of time and potentially adjust the number up or down from the top 50 if need be.
A few other exempt categories were also established for USGA amateur championships: winners of the Canadian Amateur and Mexican Amateur on both the men's and women's side will also be exempt into all USGA events they are eligible for, as well as the winner of the men's Asian Amateur. Additionally, the low eight finishers and ties from the 2010 World Amateur Team Championship, men's and women's, will also be exempt into any 2011 amateur event they are eligible for. The men's WATC qualifiers will also be exempt into sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open.