Through qualifying changes, Open becomes more global
Gone are the days when players from around the world had to travel to Britain to try to qualify. Now, there are 25 ways for a challenger to get in without leaving home, as the Royal & Ancient Golf Club embraces global dreamers.
LEMONT, Ill. (AP) -- The final stage of qualifying for the British Open will be held next Monday and Tuesday at four courses near Royal Liverpool, filling most of the 156-man field for a championship that is shifting focus from an open competition to a global one.
Gone are the days when tour pros from around the world had to travel to Britain the weekend before the Open and walk the fairways alongside players who had dreams, but not pedigree.
Now, there are 25 ways for a tour pro to get into the British Open without leaving home.
That includes four exemptions for top finishers at the Mizuno Open in Japan, two from a special money list in Japan, two from a special money list on the PGA Tour, and the highest finisher not already eligible at three PGA Tour events leading up to the British Open. Spots also are given to the Japan Open and Canadian Open champions.
When the dust settles, only about 56 spots are awarded to those who compete in 36-hole qualifiers -- 44 of those going to "International Final Qualifying" held in Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe and the United States.
"We feel we have a good balance, in particular a good international balance," R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson said. "Our exemption criteria covers overseas tours that the U.S. Open doesn't. We believe we're reaching out to the players."
The U.S. Open now has overseas qualifying in Japan (three spots available) and Europe (eight spots). Michael Campbell came out of the European qualifier before winning last year at Pinehurst No. 2, and he might not have come to America to try for a spot in the field.
USGA Executive Director David Fay considered adding more spots overseas, but didn't want the U.S. Open to become a closed shop.
"You run up against numbers," Fay said last week at Newport Country Club. "They [British Open] get 2,100 or 2,200 entries. We're pushing 9,000 entries. We want to retain the openness of the Open. We have more than half the field come through qualifying."
Almost half, anyway. The U.S. Open field included 76 players who had to qualify, including 26 who went through 18-hole local qualifying and 36-hole sectional qualifying. That amounts to 49 percent of its field.
The British Open will end up with only 56 players from 36-hole qualifiers, or 36 percent of the field.
"We think we run the most democratic golf tournament in the world," Fay said. "If you have the ability, you can give it a shot."
There's room for only a dozen of those dreamers next week at local final qualifying in England, although Dawson is comfortable with how the British Open establishes its field. It's the oldest championship in golf, one known worldwide simply as "The Open."
"We think there are a lot of very good golfers in far-flung parts of the world," Dawson said. "They may not be known because they don't play in the States, but we like the Open to be an international event."
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.