USGA sets exemption categories for 2020 U.S. Open field: Who's in, who's out

June 25, 2020

Phil Mickelson finished runner-up in the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot and will get another crack at the championship, thanks to new exemption categories established by the USGA.

Scott Halleran

There are devotees of the USGA and U.S. Open who are barely able to stomach that the rigorous qualifying gauntlet had to be scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic. They will say this year’s national championship will require at least a mental asterisk because local and sectional qualifying couldn’t be staged and an all-exempt field has to be instituted.

Those are the purists. Pragmatists might argue that the criteria for playing in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Sept. 17-20, are as relevant as they’ve ever been.

The USGA announced on Thursday its one-time exemption categories for the 120th U.S. Open, with the one-day, 36-hole marathon sectional qualifiers having been replaced by season standings, world-ranking positions and good old-fashioned results.

Among the most significant changes to the process: The top 70 in the Official World Golf Rankings—10 more than normal—as of March 15 automatically qualify (that means, at No. 61, you’re in Phil Mickelson); as many as 13 amateurs are guaranteed a spot; top performers around the world and a handful of club professionals will make it; and players on both the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour can earn a position if they play well the rest of the summer.

“We see it as a bit of a silver lining,” said John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director of championships. “The narrative of the U.S. Open is different without qualifying, but hopefully there’s some chatter around this, some interest. We think there will be.”

Already looking at a field reduced to 144 from 156 because daylight will be at a premium in September, the USGA pored over the makeup of past championships to determine the best way to compose this year’s competition. Usually about half the U.S. Open field is comprised of qualifiers, and amateurs, PGA teaching pros, foreign players and those from other tours needed to be considered, Bodenhamer said.

As an example, there have been at least 10 amateurs in the U.S. Open field over the past decade. Thus, the USGA decided this year to take the top seven points leaders on the World Golf Amateur Rankings, as of Aug. 19, along with the six amateurs who already qualified through their 2019 achievements.

International players are a big part of America’s national championship, and so the top 10 from the five events on the European Tour’s upcoming United Kingdom Swing will qualify, as will the top two finishers on the Japan Tour’s final Order of Merit, and the top season finishers each from the Sunshine, Asian and Australiasia tours.

Looking to have up-and-coming players represented, the USGA has awarded positions to the five points leaders in the Korn Ferry’s regular-season points standings, and three more spots to the top three in the three-tournament Korn Ferry Tour Finals.

Everyone sees how thrilled players are when they win a PGA Tour event and know they’re in the Masters. Now, the same thing could happen for the U.S. Open with exemptions that never existed before. The top two players, not otherwise exempt, among the top-10 finishers in five upcoming tour events (Memorial, 3M Open, WGC-FedEx St. Jude, Barracuda, Wyndham) will qualify, as will the top three finishers, not already exempt, in the top 10 of the PGA Championship in August.

“That ability to play your way in for some players will be important,” Bodenhamer said. “It’s not qualifying, but qualifying’s not perfect either. There are some good players who don’t make it through qualifying. We feel good about the opportunities we’ve given for people to play their way in. There are a number of different avenues by the time we get to the U.S. Open.”

With qualifying positions in flux because of overlapping categories, Bodenhamer has calculated that seven or eight more players could come from the OWGR beyond the top 70. And even late risers in the rankings might be taken care of, with the alternate list being drawn from the OWGR as of Aug. 23.

Of course, being selected and actually getting to Winged Foot, Bodenhamer said, will be one of the biggest challenges, especially for players coming from outside the U.S. He said the USGA has worked closely with the PGA Tour and the U.S. government to ensure that players can travel here to compete, though it will still be up to the individual to decide if he wants to go through the rigors of quarantine processes here and at home.

Bodenhamer said the USGA is closely monitoring the latest developments with COVID-19 and the PGA Tour before it announces its own protocols for the U.S. Open and Women’s U.S. Open, set to be played Dec. 10-13 at Champions Golf Club in Houston. The exemption categories for the Women’s Open are expected to be announced next week.


Gary Woodland celebrates on the 18th green after winning the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Warren Little


(Players are listed once, though may be exempt in several categories)

U.S. Open champions of last 10 years

Gary Woodland, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell

10 lowest scorers from 2019 U.S. Open

Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, Chez Reavie, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson, Chesson Hadley

Winner of 2019 U.S. Senior Open Championship

Steve Stricker

Winner of 2019 U.S. Amateur Championship

Andy Ogletree

Runner-up of 2019 U.S. Amateur

John Augenstein

Winner of 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur

Preston Summerhays

Winner of 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur

Lukas Michel

Winners of the Masters, 2016-19

Tiger Woods, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett

Winners of PGA Championship, 2015-20

2020: TBD, Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker, Jason Day

Winners of Open Championship, 2015-19

Shane Lowry, Francesco Molinari, Zach Johnson

Qualifiers from 2019 Tour Championship

Paul Casey, Tony Finau, Kevin Kisner, Hideki Matsuyama, Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Kokrak, Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Kuchar, Sungjae Im, Rickie Fowler, Abraham Ancer, Patrick Cantlay, Marc Leishman, Brandt Snedeker, Corey Conners, Charles Howell III, Lucas Glover

Winner of 2019 The Amateur Championship

James Sugrue

Winner of the 2019 Mark H. McCormick Medal (Men’s World Amateur Golf Ranking)

Cole Hammer

Top 70, Official World Golf Rankings (as of March 15)

Tyrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Bernd Wiesberger, Kevin Na, Lee Westwood, Billy Horschel, Cameron Smith, Jazz Janewattananond, Victor Perez, Shugo Imahira, Erik van Rooyen, Matt Wallace, Collin Morikawa, Scott Scheffler, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Christian Bezuidenhout, Sunghoon Kang, Bubba Watson, Brendon Todd, Adam Hadwin, Viktor Hovland, Ian Poulter, Tom Lewis, Shaun Norris, Phil Mickelson, Andrew Putnam, Keegan Bradley, Lucas Herbert, Eddie Pepperell, Robert MacIntyre, Kurt Kitayama, Chan Kim, Joel Dahmen


• Top two, not otherwise exempt, in the top 10 and ties of the 2020 Memorial, 3M Open, WGC-Fed Ex St. Jude Invitational, Barracuda Championship and Wyndham Championship

• Top three players, not otherwise exempt, in the top 10 and ties of 2020 PGA Championship

• Top 10 aggregate points earners, not otherwise exempt, from the 2020 European Tour United Kingdom Swing

• Top five points earners from Korn Ferry regular season list; top five points leaders from 2020 Korn Ferry Tour Finals

• Top two finishers from the 2019 Japan Golf Tour final Order of Merit

• Top finisher from 2019 Sunshine Tour final Order of Merit

• Top finisher from 2019 Asian Tour final Order of Merit

• Top finisher from 2019 Australiasia Tour final Order of Merit

• Top three finishers from 2020 PGA National Professional Championship

• Top seven ranked players from the World Amateur Golf Ranking, as of Aug. 19, 2020

• Special exemptions as selected by the USGA

(Remaining spots in the championship will be filled in order using the Official World Golf Rankings as of Aug. 23, 2020. Once the field is set, the USGA will compile an alternate list for the championship using the OWGR.)