The United States Open Championship, commonly known as the U.S. Open, is the annual open golf tournament of the United States. It is the second of the four major championships in golf, and is on the official schedule of both the PGA Tour and the European Tour. It is staged by the United States Golf Association (USGA) in mid-June, scheduled so that, if there are no weather delays, the final round is played on the third Sunday, which is Father’s Day.
The U.S. Open is open to any professional, or to any amateur with an up-to-date men’s USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 1.4. Players (male or female) may obtain a place by being fully exempt or by competing successfully in qualifying. The field is 156 players.
About half of the field is made up of players who are fully exempt from qualifying. As of the U.S. Open in 2014, the exemption categories are:
- Winners of the U.S. Open for the last ten years
- Winner and runner-up from the previous year’s U.S. Amateur
- Winner of the previous year’s Amateur Championship
- The previous year’s Mark H. McCormack Medal winner for the top-ranked amateur golfer in the world
- Winners of each of Masters Tournament, Open Championship and PGA Championship for the last five years
- Winners of the last three Players Championships
- Winner of the current year’s BMW PGA Championship
- Winner of the last U.S. Senior Open
- Top 10 finishers and ties from the previous year’s U.S. Open
- Players who qualified for the previous year’s Tour Championship
- The top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) as of two weeks before the start of the tournament
- The top 60 in the OWGR as of the tournament date
- Special exemptions selected by the USGA
- All remaining spots after the second top 60 OWGR cutoff date filled by alternates from qualifying tournaments.
The exemptions for amateurs apply only if the players remain amateurs as of the tournament date.
Before 2011, the sole OWGR cutoff for entry was the top 50 as of two weeks before the tournament. An exemption category for the top 50 as of the tournament date was added for 2011, apparently in response to the phenomenon of golfers entering the top 50 between the original cutoff date and the tournament (such asJustin Rose and Rickie Fowler in 2010).
Through 2011, exemptions existed for leading money winners on the PGA, European, Japanese, and Australasian tours, as well as winners of multiple PGA Tour events in the year before the U.S. Open. These categories were eliminated in favor of inviting the top 60 on the OWGR at both relevant dates. Starting with the 2012 championship, an exemption was added for the winner of the current year’s BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s equivalent of The Players Championship.
Potential competitors who are not fully exempt must enter the Qualifying process, which has two stages. Firstly there is Local Qualifying, which is played over 18 holes at more than 100 courses around the United States. Many leading players are exempt from this first stage, and they join the successful local qualifiers at the Sectional Qualifying stage, which is played over 36 holes in one day at several sites in the U.S., as well as one each in Europe and Japan. There is no lower age limit and the youngest-ever qualifier was 14-year-old Andy Zhang of China, who qualified in 2012 after Paul Casey withdrew days before the tournament.
The purse at the 2014 U.S. Open was $9 million, and the winner’s share was $1.62 million. The European Tour uses conversion rates at the time of the tournament to calculate the official prize money used in their Race to Dubai (€6,665,578 in 2014). In line with the other majors, winning the U.S. Open gives a golfer several privileges that make his career much more secure if he is not already one of the elite players of the sport. U.S. Open champions are automatically invited to play in the other three majors (the Masters, The Open Championship (British Open), and the PGA Championship) for the next five years, as well as The Players Championship, and they are exempt from qualifying for the U.S. Open itself for 10 years. They may also receive a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, which is automatic for regular members. Non-PGA Tour members who win the U.S. Open have the choice of joining the PGA Tour either within 60 days of winning, or prior to the beginning of any one of the next five tour seasons. Finally, U.S. Open winners receive automatic invitations to three of the five senior majors once they turn 50; they receive a five-year invitation to the U.S. Senior Open and a lifetime invitation to the Senior PGA Championship and Senior British Open.
The top 10 finishers at the U.S. Open are fully exempt from qualifying for the following year’s Open, and the top four are automatically invited to the following season’s Masters.