When I was growing up in Australia, my dad used to tell me that
if I practiced hard enough I might one day win the U.S Open. In
1983 that dream came true, and from the moment I raised the
trophy over my head, I've had a love affair with the tournament.
It's too bad the USGA doesn't have a similar affection for its
Now that I've turned 50 and have decided to make this my last
full season on the LPGA tour, I was hoping to hear those
treasured words--"Play away, please"--one last time at the Open.
Instead, the USGA decided to shun me, and other past champs, by
giving the only exemption to this year's Open to someone who has
never won the tournament. Nancy Lopez is a legend and an obvious
sentimental choice because she, too, is making this her last
season, but the fact remains that she is less deserving of an
exemption than a lot of other players.
I wouldn't have cared if the USGA had invited someone like
JoAnne Carner or Jane Geddes--both previous Open winners--but
what's upsetting is that Nancy gets yet another chance to chase
her elusive dream while we have to sit at home. This is the
third time the USGA has given her an exemption; no woman has
ever received more free passes. Let's face it, Nancy isn't
exactly playing her best golf. She hasn't made a cut all
year--at least I've made six.
Despite the USGA's stinginess, I love the U.S. Open too much to
just give up, so I tried to play my way in through qualifying on
June 10. My chances of playing in a 27th Open came down to a
10-foot birdie putt on the final hole of a 36-hole qualifier at
Blue Heron Pines in Cologne, N.J. After a grueling 12-hour day I
stood five over par and knew that one last birdie could clinch a
spot in the field. The putt missed just to the left, and now I'm
June 30, 2002
Here's the kicker: After that devastating miss I was asked to
trudge out for an extra hole to determine the alternate spots.
Even though all I wanted to do was go home and sulk, I sucked it
up and played that 37th hole to fight for an alternate spot,
because that's how much the Open means to me. It's too bad the
USGA won't return the loyalty.
Jan Stephenson has won 16 LPGA tournaments.