The US Open, accoding to most golfers is the toughest Major to win. On the tournament Thursday, it has 156 starters, but in the weeks running up to it, it has more than 10,000 dreamers hoping to get to that starting line. Not this year.
But this year, with Covid-19 looming large, the United States Golf Association, has announced there will no qualifiers at all. The tournament, scheduled to be held in June has been shifted to September.
The qualifiers have been a route for many an Indian seeking to play the US Open.
As many as six Indians have figured in the US Open, with Jeev Milkha Singh, like in many other aspects being the first. And all of them have come through the qualifiers at least once. Only Jeev (in 2007 and 2009) and Anirban Lahiri (2015 and 2016) had direct exemptions, but on other occassions, they, too, came through the world-famous qualifiers.
Jeev ‘qualified’ through Final qualifiers for his first US Open in 2002 at Bethpage. After that Jeev played thhe US Open four times more. In 2006 and then again in 2016, too, he came through the qualifiers. In 2016, he was actually the first alternate at the end of the qualifiers kin Surrey, but got in after the withdrawal of Thongchai Jaidee.
In 2007 and 2009, he played because he was inside Top-50 at the end of the previous year. He ended 2007 as No. 37 in the world, and was No. 35 at the end of 2008, both times emerging Asian Tour No. 1.
“For me, the toughest Major is the US Open, though the Masters was always a dream, like it is for any golfer. The qualifiers for the US Open are tougher than most events and it takes a lot out of you. I am proud of the three times I cam through that route and twice by exemption,” said Jeev on the cancellation of the US Open qualifiers.
“The massive scale of the qualifiers, often with over 10,000 starters is what make the US Open so unique and it is called the People’s Major. Alas Covid-19 has stopped that from happening this year. But I am sure it (the qualifiers) will be back next year and I hope I will be there at the starting line.”
In 2006, along with Jeev, another Indian getting into US Open field was Jyoti Randhawa, also getting in through qualifying event in Surrey.
In 2010, Arjun Atwal became the third Indian to play the US Open after coming through qualifiers at Rockfort, US.
Shiv Kapur, who loves the challenge of qualifiers, has played five Majors and each time he came through the qualifiers. Three times he did that for The (British) Open – in 2006, 2013 and 2016. Twice he got into the US Open by the same route – in 2014 and 2015.
“What a pity, there will be no qualfiers this time. The Open is cancelled and the US Open has cancelled the qualfieirs. But I suuppose there was no choice. For me, the qualfieirs have meant a lot. I made the Majors four times in five years through qualifiers between 2013 and 2017,” said Kapur, who logged his Major result – T-23 at the 2014 US Open.
“The qualifier is a massive challenge and the 36-hole attempt has no room for error,” he added.
Shubhankar Sharma’s magnificent 2018 season saw him get an invite to the Masters, but for the US Open he had to qualfy from Columbus, and he did.
In 2019, Anirban Lahiri, came through the qualifiers for his third appearance at the US Open. In 2015, when Lahiri won the Hero Indian Open, his last pro title, he forced his way into Top-50 before the US Open. He ended 2015 at 40thin the world, making him eligble for 2016 US Open.
“As you can imagine, this was an incredibly difficult decision, as qualifying is a cornerstone of USGA championships,” said USGA senior managing director of championships John Bodenhamer. “We take great pride in the fact that many thousands typically enter to pursue their dream of qualifying for a USGA championship and we deeply regret that they will not have that opportunity this year. But this structure provides the best path forward for us to conduct these championships in 2020.”
“We have not taken these decisions lightly and wish we had more options,” Bodenhamer said. “But with a continued, keen interest in doing what is best for all involved, although we are extremely disappointed, this is the right decision.”
The ‘super elite’ – who are in Top 50-60 of the world, plus a lot of other ‘exempt’ players like top finishers in other Majors and past champions, form about half the field at the US Open.
The remainder come from local, sectional and final qualifiers. Almost 500 players come in from local and sectional qualifiers, who then join a lot of top pros, including many past PGA Tour winners, Major winners and so on, who have not made the exempt list. The 12 Sectional Qualifiers throw up the other half of the field for a final field of 156.
Jeev (2007), Lahiri (2015 and 2016) and Sharma (2018) are the only Indians to play all four Majors in a single year.
Indians at US Open Year they came through qualifiers:
Jeev Milkha Singh: 2002/ 2006/ 2016
Jyoti Randhawa: 2006
Arjun Atwal: 2010
Shiv Kapur: 2014 / 2015
Shubhankar Sharma: 2018
Anirban Lahiri: 2019