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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

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Sectional Qualifying Post-Script

by David Shefter   USGA

A lot of talk has surfaced over the last two days regarding Kenny Perry's decision to eschew the 36-hole sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio. Perry has stated over and over that his No. 1 goal this year is to play in the Ryder Cup at Valhalla in his home state of Kentucky. So Perry set up his PGA Tour schedule to play venues where he's had past success. He's only played Torrey Pines three times in his long career with very little success. Yet the U.S. Open is a major championship offering double Ryder Cup points. It's also being contested in June rather than January when the weather tends to be damp and course is much softer.

Some have said that Perry should have received a full exemption for winning Memorial since he jumped from 73 to 27 in the World Rankings. But the cutoff for the top 50 exemption was May 26. The USGA does this so it can set the sectional fields -- there are 14 and two overseas -- and establish appropriate qualifying spots. If you waited until the Memorial ended on June 1, the USGA would have less than 24 hours to establish all the fields and dole out the qualifying spots. Players need to have travel plans and reservations. From a logistic point, it wouldn't work to wait until the 12th hour to have a cutoff.

Now you could have a formula in place where the Memorial winner gets a free Open pass if the player meets certain criteria. After all, one spot was held in case the winner had multiple PGA Tour victories between last year's U.S. Open and the end of the Memorial. Carl Pettersson and Bart Bryant both qualified that way in recent years. But Perry only had that one win. He lost a playoff to Ryuji Imada in Atlanta and shot 80 in the final round of The Players, where the winner does receive an exemption.

That's why Paul Goydos' playoff defeat had to hurt. He would have gotten the free pass to Torrey Pines, but was forced to endure qualifying in Tennessee and failed to advance. Sergio Garcia was already in the field via other exemption categories, but added another with The Players win.

It still boggles my mind why so many PGA Tour, European Tour and other elite professionals disdain playing a 36-hole qualifier. There once was a time when everyone had to qualify. Thankfully, you won't see Tiger and Phil enduring such a process.

But if the Masters had such a process, how many of these same guys would jump at the opportunity? Unfortunately, the Masters is an invitation-only affair. Don't meet the requirements and you don't have a starting time at Augusta National.

The British Open has qualifying but it's done in a different way. The Royal and Ancient doesn't receive 8,000-plus entries for its biggest competition.

The U.S. Open is the most democratic championship in the world. Anyone can qualify -- if you meet the handicap requirements -- and every year there are Cinderella stories about guys who make it through the grueling process. And every year top pros withdraw once they find out the only they're getting in is through qualifying. To me, it just doesn't make sense.


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