Not So Special
U.S. Open Exemptions
The U.S. Open is rightly called the most democratic of the
majors because more than half of the 156-man field must qualify
for it. For that reason special exemptions, unearned free
passes, have always seemed out of place. This year the USGA gave
six players, two more than ever before, such exemptions. I can
see the merits of rewarding Pebble Beach icons Jack Nicklaus and
Tom Watson with a poignant send-off at their favorite course,
but I don't think that the four others who received
freebies--Aaron Baddeley, Michael Campbell, Greg Norman and
Curtis Strange--are special enough to deserve them.
That may seem like a harsh thing to say about a teenage prodigy,
an accomplished European tour player, a two-time British Open
champ and a back-to-back U.S. Open winner, but none of these
players meet the criteria for a special exemption that were
established in 1966, to accommodate Ben Hogan. Back then the
53-year-old Hogan, a four-time U.S. Open winner, hadn't played
in the championship in five years, but the event was to be held
at Olympic, his favorite course, and the USGA thought his
presence would make wonderful theater.
By making an exception for Hogan, and therefore breaking one of
the guiding principles of the tournament--everyone is equal--the
USGA set a precedent without well-defined guidelines. Who
deserves a special exemption? Over the years they have been
awarded unevenly. Stars like Billy Casper, Arnold Palmer, Gary
Player, Sam Snead and Lee Trevino have been given them, as have
lesser lights like Lou Graham, David Ishii, Gene Littler, Jay
Sigel and Scott Verplank. This ad hoc system was even praised in
1990 when a 45-year-old Hale Irwin won the Open after receiving
a special exemption. Since then Nicklaus has received eight
exemptions, Watson three. Otherwise, with the exceptions of Ben
Crenshaw and Palmer, who both got the wave at Oakmont in 1994,
each recipient was a former Open champion returning to the site
of his victory.
The process devolved this year. Strange is the closest call.
Like Casper and Trevino, he won the Open twice, but Strange is
not as important a figure as either of them. Plus, he has little
history at Pebble Beach. Strange hasn't won on Tour since the
'89 Open, and the exemption that victory carried ended last
year. There would have been nothing untoward in requiring him to
play his way in this year.
Norman's case is more clear-cut. Although, like Snead, he is a
marquee name who has never won the Open, Norman is at least a
rung below Slammin' Sammy in terms of career accomplishments. As
a force in the majors for two decades Norman would have been
missed at Pebble Beach, but his absence would have been a
logical consequence of his decision to become an occasional
player. As such he shouldn't be the beneficiary of a special
Nor should any 19-year-old. The USGA's decision to exempt
Baddeley, an Australian amateur, was its worst mistake. Yes,
Baddeley had an amazing victory over Norman and Colin
Montgomerie at the '99 Australian Open, and the precocity of
someone like Sergio Garcia tempts us to think that other young
players are fully formed when they are not. The USGA would have
been doing Baddeley a favor by requiring that he go through
qualifying rather than making what will always be a hard road
In years past Campbell, of New Zealand, might have received an
international player exemption, but the USGA has not utilized
that category since 1997. Since then the USGA has used the World
Ranking as a measuring stick for international players. That
Campbell was not high enough on the ranking, despite four wins
this year, to get into the Open is precisely why he should have
had to qualify.
The USGA needn't abandon special exemptions, but should raise
the bar high enough to eliminate any second-guessing over what
has become the most subjective call in golf.
Longshots and No Shots
The U.S. Open has had a long tradition of dark horse contenders.
The last time the championship was played at Pebble Beach, in
1992, Gil Morgan came out of nowhere to dominate play for three
days. Here are 10 players who, like Morgan, haven't won a major
but could make a run at one this week, and 10 others who will be
teeing it up at Pebble Beach but don't stand a chance.
1. Stewart Cink
At 6'4", 205 pounds, he has the strength to deal with the rough
yet plays within himself. Cink is even-tempered, which is ideal
for the Open. In four starts his worst finish is 32nd.
2. Darren Clarke
He has a solid swing and can get in a wonderful groove, as he
did while trouncing Tiger Woods in February's World Match Play
final. Clarke tied for 10th last year at Pinehurst.
3. Mike Weir
A tough battler with a well-rounded, accuracy-oriented game, he
had progressively higher finishes in last year's majors.
4. Michael Campbell
The Kiwi's broad base and controlled swing are a good match for
any tournament played at a seaside course, and after years of
struggle, his confidence is high.
5. Carlos Franco
Some say his free-swinging style is a little loose for the Open,
but he's a resourceful player whose A game is as good as
6. Loren Roberts
Unspectacular tee to green, the Boss of the Moss still turns
lemons into lemonade with the putter. He's always dangerous when
par is a good number. Tied for second in '94.
7. Jean Van de Velde
He's another great putter, and his attitude is even better.
Forget about the British Open at Carnoustie--Van de Velde has.
8. Chris Perry
The money shot on any tough course is the soft fade, and he can
hit that all day.
9. Miguel Angel Jimenez
There's nothing artful about the Mechanic's game, but the
Spaniard can plod with the best of them.
10. Duffy Waldorf
He has finished as high as a tie for ninth in the Open, and he
won the California State Amateur at Pebble in 1984. Waldorf's a
strong tee-to-green player who showed at Westchester that he's
on his game.
1. Ted Tryba
His game is O.K. for Tour events, but Tryba's low ball flight
and crooked driving kill him in the Open. Not a frequent hitter
of greens in regulation (58.3 percent, 177th on Tour), Tryba
will hit even fewer at Pebble.
2. John Huston
He's outwardly placid, but Huston is a fast player who doesn't
have the patience to handle the Open. Missed cut five of nine
3. Dennis Paulson
A high-strung power player making his first Open start, Paulson
has a low-frustration threshold that produces blowups.
4. Steve Pate
Volcano's self-destructive lava will rise after a few sprayed
drives into the cabbage. A contender in '88, his best finish
since is 19th.
5. Shigeki Maruyama
His 58-74 in sectional qualifying says a lot. Maruyama is a
talented but erratic player who needs room off the tee.
6. Bob Estes
A straight driver with an excellent short game, Estes hits a low
ball that doesn't spin, which will often leave him in the
greenside rough at Pebble. In five Open starts his best finish
7. Fred Funk
Because he's such an accurate driver, you might think he would
be in his element. However, like Calvin Peete before him, Funk's
B game isn't good enough in the ultimate exam.
8. Notah Begay
Begay's big game comes with big fluctuations. He could shoot 64
one day and 78 the next, and his switch-hitting putting style is
suspect, ranking 166th on Tour.
9. Kirk Triplett
His fragile psyche--he tends to fold his tent when the going
gets tough--is not made for Open-style torture tracks.
10. Brad Faxon
He misses so many fairways and greens in narrow Open conditions
that even one of the best alltime putting strokes can't save him.
Missing to the right when he is under pressure is becoming as
much of a bane to David Duval as it was to Greg Norman. Duval's
blocked three-iron in his playoff loss to Dennis Paulson
reminded me of his pushed four-iron into the water at the 72nd
hole of the '98 Trophee Lancome and his leaker into Rae's Creek
that cost him this year's Masters.
What do these players have in common?
They're the only golfers among the top 20 on the money list who
are not playing in this week's U.S. Open. Allenby ranks 14th,
Scherrer 15th and Flesch 19th.
Is the Tour right or wrong to appeal the Casey Martin decision
to the Supreme Court?
--Based on 6,303 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Should the USGA eliminate special exemptions into
the U.S. Open? Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.
Karrie Webb will be gunning for her third consecutive victory in
a major at next week's McDonald's LPGA Championship, in
Wilmington, Del. Here are the players with the longest win
streaks in the majors.
4 Mickey Wright
'61 U.S. Open, LPGA,
'62 Titleholders, Western
3 Gary Player
'87 Sr. Players, U.S.
Open, '88 PGA Seniors
3 Pat Bradley
'85 du Maurier,
'86 Nabisco, LPGA
3 Ben Hogan
'53 Masters, U.S.
Open, British Open
3 Babe Zaharias
Western, U.S. Open
David Tuyo, Decatur, Ala.
Tuyo, a senior at the University of Mobile, won the NAIA
Championship at Isleta Eagle Golf Course in Albuquerque. Tied at
six-under 202 after regulation with Mike Scott of Huntingdon
College and Bjorn Widerstedt of Flagler College, Tuyo prevailed
on the second hole of a playoff. An Academic All-America, Tuyo
plans to enter the PGA Tour's Q school this fall.
Phil Gutterman, Melville, N.Y.
Gutterman, 34, a funeral home owner, shot a one-under 215 at La
Tourette Golf Course on Staten Island to triumph in the New York
City Amateur. He beat Chris Blum of Manhasset by a stroke. A
scratch player, Gutterman has been the club champion at Pine
Hollow Country Club in East Norwich, N.Y., five times.
Will Frantz, North Port, Fla.
Frantz, 47, the head pro at Bobcat Trail Golf and Country Club
in North Port, won a record third North Florida PGA section
Match Play title. Frantz, the 1996 and '99 Section champion and
a four-time North Florida player of the year, beat Walter Smith
of Lake City's Quail Heights in 39 holes in the final at
Grenelefe Golf and Tennis Resort in Haines City.
Pet of the Week
Cali, Jack Nicklaus's golden retriever two-year-old Cali is the
Nicklauses' fourth female golden retriever. (The first one,
Lady, was a gift from President Ford.) Lady begat Bear who begat
White Paws, who died four years ago. A year later Gary Nicklaus
saw his mother, Barbara, petting a golden at Pebble Beach. He
asked the owner where the dog was bred. Turned out it came from
the same kennel that Lady had, so Gary went there to pick out a
puppy for his parents. Cali is short for the dog's birthplace,
Jack always had dogs growing up. Jack and Barbara's first dog
was a silver poodle, Little Napoleon, who was the offspring of
one of his childhood pets. "Jack has always liked watching TV or
reading with a dog at his feet," says Barbara. "He likes playing
with them, and when he practices his short game in the yard,
Cali brings back the ball, although not always without teeth
marks." Cali's most impressive trick is barking six times when
she is asked, "How often has Jack won the Masters?"