U.S. Open qualifiers tee off next week nation-wide


The year’s major golf championship ended on Sunday, when Scottie Scheffler’s  last putt dropped, giving hims his second title in three years at  the Masters. Though the second of the four majors, the PGA Championship, will be played in May the third major actually begins next Monday (APRIL 22) and the Chicago area gets a taste of it just two days later.

Sound confusing? It is, until you comprehend just how big the U.S. Open is. The deadline for online registration passed last week, the day before the Masters started.

The finals of the Open will be June 13-16 on Pinehurst’s No. 2 Course in North Carolina, but a long lead-in period is needed to determine the 156 players who will compete there. Getting to the 72-hole climax is a huge accomplishment based on sheer numbers, and the final site is significant.

Pinehurst long held the record for most entries – 10,127 in 2014.  That record was broken last year when 10,187 registered for the event that concluded at Los Angeles Country Club. Numbers like that make the U.S. Open the biggest golf tournament and one of the world’s biggest sporting events in terms of participants.

No entry figure has been announced for this year yet, but it’ll be filled with very qualified competitors.  Amateurs who want to play must have a handicap index that doesn’t exceed 0.4.  Otherwise a player must be designated as a professional to get in.

Pinehurst is the new home of the U.S. Golf Association, which conducts the championship.   Pinehurst also hosted the championship in 1999 and 2005 and has more recently been declared an anchor site.  That means the Open will be back to Pinehurst in 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047.

Staging a U.S. Open is a massive project for the USGA. This year’s tourney requires 109 local qualifying sessions, all over 18 holes. The survivors and players exempt from locals will go through 36-hole final eliminations that begin May 20 in England, Japan and one U.S. site.  Nine other U.S. sites will host the final stage of qualifying on June 3 and another will be held in Canada that day. None will be played in Illinois, but three first-stage qualifiers will.

One of the early local qualifiers is next Wednesday (APRIL 24) at Stonewall Orchard, in Grayslake.  A former Illinois PGA Championship site, Stonewall will have 73 players battling for four spots in the second stage qualifiers.

A bigger local will be held April 29, when 84 players compete over the Woodside and Lakeside nines at Cantigny in Wheaton with five berths in the second stage on the line.

Still a third Illinois local will be played on the busiest day of the first stage.  On May 13 there’ll be 24 locals nation-wide, with one at Illini Country Club in Springfield. Illini CC, which will also have 84 players competing for five second stage spots, is hosting a local for the 45th consecutive year. That encompasses every year since qualifying has been conducted, and no other club in the country can make that claim.

With about 10,000 registered entries  the chances of any hopefuls going on to win the Open proper are remote, but it has been done – by Ken Venturi in 1964 and Orville Moody in 1969.

Only six players won the Open after surviving the finals stage – Gene Littler (1961), Julius Boros (1963), Jerry Pate (1976), Steve Jones (1996), Michael Campbell (2005) and Lucas Glover (2009).

A few other U.S. Open winners have survived both local and final qualifiers at some point in their careers.  They include Lou Graham and Hale Irwin, both champions when the Open was played at Medinah; Curtis Strange, Lee Trevino, Gary Woodland and Fuzzy Zoeller.