Traditionally, only very committed golf enthusiasts pay close attention to Final Qualifying for entrance to the U.S. Open. 2023 is not a traditional year. As the normally quiet U.S. Open Qualifying process whittles over 10,000 entrants down to 156 players who will compete at the Los Angeles Country Club from June 15-18, several story lines are capturing the attention of even casual golf fans. The emergence of and seemingly endless debates related to the LIV Golf Tour, the Cinderella story of club pro Michael Block, and the growing popularity of the website datagolf.com are all contributing to interesting story lines playing out within the context of U.S. Open Final Qualifying.
The Qualifying Process
After thousands of the dreamers are weeded out in Local Qualifying, about 70-80 of the 156 spots in the U.S. Open are claimed via Final Qualifying. Final Qualifying events are one-day 36 hole stroke play competitions. Close observers know these are often more contests of attrition than golf tournaments.
The amount of qualifying spots available at each location is determined based on total spots available and strength of field. Neither is finalized until just before Final Qualifying starts. On average, fewer than one in ten players advances through this 36-hole pressure cooker. 10 of this year’s 13 Final Qualifying events will be held on “golf’s longest day” Monday, June 5.
LIV Debates Dominate
No sense ignoring the elephant in the room. LIV Golf is home to several of the world’s best players. Despite having only 48 players “on tour”, several of the world’s best players now play for LIV. However, the USGA uses “Official World Golf Rankings” (OWGR) as a key part of their qualification criteria and LIV Golf tournaments do not award world ranking points.
Despite not playing PGA Tour events for several months, LIV superstars Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed already qualified for the U.S. Open and are free to play in the event.
However, other LIV players aren’t so fortunate. Since the OWGR organizers do not recognize LIV tournaments, Sergio Garcia, Harold Varner III, Charles Howell III, Paul Casey and others are not seen as being in the world’s top 60 players. They are not exempt into to the U.S. Open without going through qualifying.
Garcia bit the bullet and played in one of the 3 Final Qualifying events played last week. Competing in a field of 120, Garcia played well and claimed one of the eight U.S. Open spots awarded to the Dallas site.
While Garcia is in, 2010 U.S. Open champ and current LIV player Grame McDowell is out. McDowell missed by a shot in Dallas. He will watch the U.S. Open on TV like you and me.
Legitimate Claims? Ask Datagolf…
Even though the OWGR do not recognize LIV tournaments, a website and data tool fast gaining influence does. Datagolf.com, developed by brothers Will and Matt Courchene uses complex data processing tools to rank professional golfers around the world based on their play much more their choice of tour. Often seen as a tool for gamblers, their ranking system is gaining credibility within the golf media ecosystem.
Datagolf.com recognizes Varner as the #45 player in the world and identifies Howell as #39. If this system was used by the USGA, both Varner and Howell III would each be exempt into the US Open. Varner chose to try to enter via qualifying, as did LIV players Matthew Wolff (DG #133) and Mark Leishman (DG #121). Despite his high ranking, Howell III decided against qualifying as former world superstars Bubba Watston, Ian Poulter and others.
The Most Interesting Cases
“I’m gonna see my boys tomorrow night.” ❤️
After a tough day, Michael Block still finds perspective. pic.twitter.com/kzvpxCLDZP
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 26, 2023
While the question of how to respond to the establishment of LIV Golf dominates most golf debates today, the two most curious stories related to U.S. Open entrance are those of two specific individuals, Michael Block and Talor Gooch.
Block was unknown to almost all golf fans two weeks ago, now the club pro and 15th place PGA Championship Cinderella is beloved around the golf world. In yet another human interest twist, Block and his 18-year-old son Dylan will both tee it up in Final Qualifying at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles.
On the Fore Play podcast from Barstool Sports, Block briefly claimed that if tied with Dylan, he would let his son win a final qualifying spot before changing his mind in a humorous exchange which only increased his likability. No doubt there will be more fans and media attending and paying attention to the Hillcrest qualifier than in normal years.
Block’s feel good story is mismatched against the curious case of Talor Gooch. A LIV player, Gooch met the qualifications for exemption into the U.S. Open by qualifying for the 2022 PGA Tour Championship, until….after the fact, the USGA changed the rules from “qualified” for the Tour Championship to “qualified” and “eligible” for the 2022 event. The after the fact change is clearly a shot at LIV and seems an unfair targeting of one LIV player. Gooch refused to try to gain entrance via U.S. Open Qualifying, despite being ranked #46 in the world by datagolf.com.
More Eyes On Qualifying
Normally played in relative obscurity, U.S. Open Final Qualifying will have increased attention this year. There will be more people watching and more debates will ensue. Time to play, and more than ever, to pay attention to U.S. Open Final Qualifying.