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You probably haven't heard, but the USGA recently announced that there will be no U.S. Open this year. The best players in the world will still get together at Congressional in June, but it will not be "open," at least not as the USGA has historically defined the word.
The culture of the Open dramatically changed when the USGA suddenly ruled that only conforming clubs can be used in local and sectional qualifying for this year's championship. This rule went into effect on the PGA Tour last year, so to most this decision would seem to be both logical and insignificant, but that conclusion is incomplete.
Amateurs are not required to use conforming clubs in USGA championships—the U.S. Amateur, the Mid-Am, etc.—until at least 2014, which means the irons that I bought in 2009 are legal for every tournament for which I am eligible, except the U.S. Open. For the thousands of amateur players who annually take the longest of shots at local qualifying, we will have to purchase a new set of irons for the right to most likely play only one round in this year's event.
This effectively means that entering the U.S. Open will cost golfers in my situation at least an extra $1,000, on top of all the other expenses involved. It seems pretty clear that thousands of us dreamers—whom the USGA likes to romanticize when it suits them—will decide participating in our national championship simply isn't feasible.
Why did the USGA do this? In announcing the decision Mike Davis, the USGA's new executive director, said, "There are ample conforming clubs in the marketplace," and "adopting this condition ensures a level playing field for all competitors." Yes, but did they consider the cost of securing those new clubs? Or that a season's worth of PGA Tour data has proven that there is literally no competitive difference between the old and new grooves? If fairness is the issue, it would be easier for Tour pros to use clubs with the old grooves for one round than for thousands of amateurs to buy brand new irons.
The USGA thinks it's leveling the playing field, and that's great. But what it has really leveled are the dreams of all those players who gave the Open its unique, democratic quality.
John Ziegler is the club champion at Oakmont Country Club in Glendale, Calif., a sectional qualifying site for this year's U.S. Open.
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