Seven years ago, the USGA significantly overhauled its exemption categories for multiple championships, notably the U.S. Open. But in 2012, the USGA wasn’t quite ready to make a similar change for the U.S. Women’s Open. That time has arrived.
Beginning with the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas, all money-list exemption categories will be eliminated. In a letter to every player who entered the U.S. Women’s Open in 2017 and 2018, Shannon Rouillard, the senior director of the U.S. Women’s Open, outlined the three new exemption categories in announcing the changes.
Going forward, the top 75 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings at the close of entries, as well as on the Monday of the current year’s championship, will be fully exempt. Previously, the top 50 in the Rolex Rankings automatically qualified.
One new category was added. The top 30 from the final CME Globe points list for the previous year’s CME Tour Championship will be exempt, a nod to the LPGA Tour, the strongest and most globally diverse women’s professional tour.
In order to strengthen the U.S. Open field seven years ago, money list categories for various world tours were eliminated and replaced by a player’s standing in the Official World Golf Ranking. With the Rolex Women’s Golf Rankings in its infancy, the Association held off making similar changes to the Women’s Open.
USGA CEO Mike Davis explained the U.S. Open decision thusly: “Trying to evaluate the strength of one tour against another has become increasingly difficult for the USGA as the game has grown globally. Utilizing the Official World Golf Ranking will eliminate this subjective task that the USGA annually faced.”
Since the change, the U.S. Open has typically enjoyed a near 50-50 split between exempt players and those who advance through 36-hole sectional qualifying, creating a more democratic competition.
The Women’s Open exemption changes emulate the U.S. Open exemption category for players qualifying for the previous year’s season-ending Tour Championship on the PGA Tour.
“With the global nature of the women’s professional game, we believe an expanded use of the Rolex Rankings offers a more objective approach in establishing exemption criteria for the U.S. Women’s Open Championship,” said Rouillard, who also went on to say that the “openness” is a defining characteristic of the championship.
Over the past five years, the U.S. Women’s Open has averaged nearly 91 exempt players with a high of 98 in 2016. Those numbers are expected to decrease slightly under these revised exemption categories.
“While these changes will slightly decrease the total number of exempt players,” said Rouillard, “the new structure will provide a slight increase in the number of places available through qualifying, allowing the USGA to allocate more spots appropriately based on strength of field.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.