It’s a caveat familiar to most every elite amateur golfer, male or female. Win the U.S. Amateur and you earn an exemption into your respective U.S. Open the following summer. However, to take advantage of it, you have to still be an amateur when you actually play in the major championship.
That is until now. On Monday, the USGA announced that it will allow the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur champions to play in the next year’s U.S. Open as either amateurs or professionals beginning in 2020, removing a catch that has caused a fair amount of angst for those trying to decide if and when to turn professional.
“We believe this change gives our champions an important option as they choose whether and when to embark on their professional careers,” said John Bodenhamer, USGA Senior Managing Director, Championships. “Given the significant purses awarded at the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, we realize how important it is for players to make the most appropriate decision for his or her career, and the positive impact it could have at the outset of their professional careers.”
The change to the exemption comes a year too late for Viktor Hovland, who faced the dilemma of when to turn pro after winning the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach. Hovland played out his junior season at Oklahoma State as an amateur in the spring but decided not to turn pro right after the college season ended in late May in order to compete at the U.S. Open in June at Pebble Beach.
Hovland played great at the U.S. Open, finishing T-12, before finally turning pro the following week at the Travelers Championship. It was the first of five PGA Tour events Hovland played on sponsor’s exemptions. In those events, the 21-year-old from Norway continued to shine, earning the equivalent of 305 FedEx Cup points. But that was not enough to crack the top 125 in the FedEx Cup points standings (he was 143rd), to be able to secure a PGA Tour card for 2019-’20, and now must play in the Korn Ferry Tour Final Series to try to get on the PGA Tour next season.
Had Hovland been a professional at the U.S. Open, however, he would have earned roughly 65 more FedEx Cup points and would have been just shy of reaching No. 125 on the points list and earning a PGA Tour card.
“I already knew that it wasn't going to count,” Hovland said on Sunday at the Wyndham Championship after finishing solo fourth and being asked about not getting points for his amateur starts in PGA Tour events. “So, I mean, it is what it is. I just should have played a little bit better and it wouldn't have been a problem. No, I don't have any complaints.”
While the USGA is relaxing its status on amateur champions for the U.S. Open, the Masters still has the caveat that the U.S. Amateur winner (and all amateurs who earn exemption into the field at Augusta National), must remain amateurs to compete.