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R&A considering Open qualifying - in the USA

The Royal & Ancient is on the verge of breaking with tradition by adding a fifth qualifying course for theOpen - in Chicago.

With hopes of getting a deeper field for the oldest championship in the golf, the R&A has asked the PGA Tour to develop a plan in which Americans like Brad Faxon and Gary Nicklaus would not have to fly back and forth across the Atlantic with no guarantee of getting in.

``We are concerned that some U.S. players who don't qualify through the normal exemption criteria choose not to come to final qualifying here,'' said Peter Dawson, secretary of the R&A. ``In order to get the best field in the world, perhaps that would improve if we had some kind of qualification system.''

Dawson confirmed that a U.S. qualifier for the British Open could take place in the Western Open, creating a tournament within a tournament.

Under such a scenario, if the R&A were to grant 15 exemptions, the top 15 finishers in the Western Open not already exempt to the British Open would qualify at Cog Hill. Among the kinks to work out is a format in which quality amateurs are assured of having a chance to qualify.

Dawson said the R&A ultimately will determine the structure, although ``we wouldn't want to do anything the PGA Tour wouldn't agree with.''

And it's not just for Americans.

The R&A already has allowed exemptions through the Mizuno Open in Japan, and a record 10 Japanese players were in this year's Open.

``This is part of a bigger picture where we're looking at the possibility of internationalizing qualifying on a broader scale,'' Dawson said. ``We do want the Open to be a truly international event.''

That might raise one question of fairness.

If Americans can qualify at home for the British Open, shouldn't the Europeans get the same courtesy when it comes to the U.S. Open?

And while U.S. Amateur champion David Gossett was exempt for the British Open, the British Amateur champion has never been exempt to the U.S. Open.

Dawson sees that possibility.

``A reciprocal arrangement is good,'' he said. ``I was very pleased that the USGA just decided a few weeks ago to allow our Walker Cup team an exemption to the U.S. Amateur. That's a great step.''

TIGER FACTOR:

After theOpen last year at Carnoustie, several players debated whether 1999 would go down as one of the toughest scoring years ever in the majors.

Thanks to Tiger Woods' 11-under 277 to win the PGA Championship at Medinah, the season ended with the four major champions at a combined 14 under. It was the worst score in relation to par since a combined 12 under by the four winners in 1987.

Barring waist-high rough and fairways the width of bowling alleys at Valhalla, this year will probably he the lowest scoring year for majors.

Vijay Singh won the Masters at 10-under 278. Woods won the U.S. Open by a record 12-under 272, and the British Open by a record 19-under 269. Already, that's 41 under par by the champions, with only the PGA remaining.

The record is 45 under set in 1997, in large part because of you-know-who.

Woods won the Masters with a record-tying 18-under 270. Ernie Els won the U.S. Open at 4-under 276, Justin Leonard the Open at 12-under 272 and Davis Love III the PGA at 11-under 269.

OPEN GATE:

TheOpen is the only major championship where a fan - any fan - can walk up to the gates on Sunday and buy tickets.

Small wonder, then, that St. Andrews had a record crowd of more than 230,000 throughout the week - and some harrowing moments on the last day when fans surged across the course. Still, officials have no plans to limit ticket sales or sell them in weekly packages as is done for the other three majors.

``That would be a last-ditch stand and would immediately establish a black market,'' said Hugh Campbell, chairman of the Open championship committee.

Said R&A secretary Peter Dawson: ``We want to keep the Open open.''

TOUGH CROWDS:

One thing Tiger Woods has always appreciated about British crowds if they know their golf. They applaud only the best shots.

Tom Weiskopf, the 1973 British Open champion, found that out the hard way.

Weiskopf, who was at St. Andrews for the past champions exhibition on the eve of the tournament, relayed a story he told of how he, Jack Nicklaus and John O'Leary played a practice round before the '75 Open at Carnoustie.

When they got to the par-3 eighth late in the afternoon, only a couple of spectators remained. The wind was blowing hard from the left, and Weiskopf noticed two elderly gentleman sitting on the left side of the green.

He tried to aim the ball right at them and turn it into the wind. He did just that, the ball landing right near the hole. But there was no response from the men.

He looked in the bunker. He walked over the green. Searched in the trees. Finally, Nicklaus told him, ``Can you believe it? Your ball's in the hole.''

As he left the green, Weiskopf turned to the two men and said, ``Excuse me, but did you see my shot?''

``Yes, laddie, we saw your shot,'' they replied.

``It was a hole-in-one. You didn't even clap,'' he told them.

``Aye, laddie, but it's only practice, isn't it?''

DIVOTS:

Thomas Bjorn and David Toms are high enough in the world rankings that it shouldn't matter. But just in case, both assured themselves a return to the Masters by finishing in the top four in the British Open. The top 15 are exempt to next year's British Open, which helps Mark McNulty, who had to qualify this year. ... The 12-member International team for the Presidents Cup looks like it will be represented by eight countries for the matches in October. ... Bob Duval was in the gallery at St. Andrews, but when asked whether he was sticking around for the Senior British Open, he held up his heavily bandaged right arm and showed off stitches in his elbow. The Senior Tour father of David Duval had surgery to remove bone chips and will miss the rest of the year.

STAT OF THE WEEK:

Jack Nicklaus won his 18 major championships by a combined 44 strokes. Tiger Woods has won his four majors by a combined 36 strokes.

FINAL WORD:

``All of a sudden, winning one major is a great career.'' - Nick Faldo, on the impact of Tiger Woods.

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