May 21: The U.S. Open, according 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, writes V.Krishnaswamy, @Swinging_Swamy one of India’s leading sports journalists.
But this year, with Covid-19 looming large, the United States Golf Association (USGA), 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 U.S. Open. As many as six Indians have figured in the U.S. 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 Singh (in 2007 and 2009) and Anirban Lahiri (2015 and 2016) had direct exemptions, but on other occasions, they, too, came through the world-famous qualifiers.
Singh ‘qualified’ through Final qualifiers for his first U.S. Open in 2002 at Bethpage. After that he played the U.S. Open four times more. In 2006 and then again in 2017, too, he came through the qualifiers.
In 2016, he was actually the first alternate at the end of the qualifiers in 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 world number 37 and was ranked 35th the end of 2008, winning the Asian Tour Order of Merit that year too.
“For me, the toughest Major is the U.S. Open, though the Masters was always a dream, like it is for any golfer. The qualifiers for the U.S. Open are tougher than most events and it takes a lot out of you. I am proud of the three times I came through that route and twice by exemption,” said Singh on the cancellation of the U.S. Open qualifiers.
“The massive scale of the qualifiers, often with over 10,000 starters is what make the U.S. 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 Singh, another Indian getting into U.S. Open field was Jyoti Randhawa, also getting in through qualifying event in Surrey.
In 2010, Arjun Atwal became the third Indian to play the U.S. Open after coming through qualifiers at Rockfort, U.S.
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 U.S. Open by the same route – in 2014 and 2015.
“What a pity, there will be no qualifiers this time. The Open is cancelled and the US Open has cancelled the qualifiers. But I suppose there was no choice. For me, the qualifiers 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, tied-23rd at the 2014 U.S. 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 U.S. Open he had to qualify from Columbus, and he did.
In 2019, 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 U.S. Open. He ended 2015 at 40th in the world, making him eligible for 2016 U.S. 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.