The U.S. Golf Association expanded the exemption criteria for the U.S. Open on Thursday, and the new system guarantees Phil Mickelson a place in the field.
Among the changes was increasing the number of players granted entry off their place in the world rankings from 60 to 70. The rankings utilized came from March 15, which would have been the date of The Players Championship ended. However, that event was canceled after the first round due to the coronavirus pandemic, which kept the PGA Tour idle for three months.
Mickelson, who previously wasn't exempt for the U.S. Open, was No. 61 as of mid-March. Under normal circumstances, he might have been forced to attempt to get into the U.S. Open field through one of the event's qualifying tournaments. However, with qualifying canceled because of the pandemic, the USGA was forced to adjust its formula for determining the field.
The U.S. Open, originally scheduled for last week, will be held Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
USGA senior managing director of championships John Bodenhamer said regarding the exemption changes, according to ESPN, "It was uncharted territory for us. It's something we've never done before, at least in modern history.
"Qualifying is such a huge part of what we do. It's just ingrained in our DNA and a cornerstone of what we do. It's the ultimate meritocracy. It doesn't matter your background. If you get the ball in the hole, you're in. So this wasn't easy.
"But we feel good about it. It's a representative field for the U.S. Open to what might be produced through qualifying and exemptions in a normal year. ... It took quite a bit of creative thinking on our part, and there are some things in here that will surprise."
Mickelson, who turned 50 on June 16, was pleased to hear about the development. He has won three Green Jackets at the Masters and one title each at the PGA Championship and the Open Championship, but he has never captured the U.S. Open. Mickelson has a record six runner-up results at the U.S. Open, including 2006 at Winged Foot, when his double bogey on the 72nd hole cost him the victory.
"(The new exemption criteria) worked out great, to be able to know that I have a chance to go back to Winged Foot and give it another shot," Mickelson said Thursday after shooting a 6-under-par 64 in the first round of the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn. "You can't win if you don't play, so you've got to be in the tournament to have a chance to win.
"I'm also realistic, a U.S. Open is going to be more difficult for me now than it probably was because I drive it the way I drive it, and so that week in 2006 my short game was the best it's been in my career, and I got up and down from everywhere. I know that I'll have to do the same and hopefully drive it better."
The top 70 in the world rankings as of March 15 will be joined in the field at Winged Foot by the champions of the past 10 U.S. Opens, the top two finishers from the latest U.S. Amateur, the top 30 in last year's final FedEx Cup standings plus major winners over the past five years.
Other places will go to PGA Tour event winners from the upcoming Memorial Tournament, 3M Championship, WGC-FedEx St. Jude, Barracuda Championship and Wyndham Championship. In addition, the top three previously non-exempt finishers at the PGA Championship, Aug. 6-9 in San Francisco, will make the U.S. Open field.
The top five finishers in this year's FedEx Cup standings who weren't already among the entrants will gain spots in the U.S. Open. The FedEx Cup playoffs are now due to conclude Sept. 4-7 with the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Ten spots will go to the best performers on the European Tour this summer, five to players from the Korn Ferry Tour's regular season and five more to players from the second-tier circuit's playoffs. Other places will go to top club professionals, amateurs and players from the Japan, Sunshine, Australasia and Asia tours.
The remainder of the 144-golfer field will be completed with the inclusion of the top players in the world rankings as of Aug. 23.
"It will be good to have Phil in the championship," Bodenhamer said, according to GolfChannel.com. "We view it as a positive to have Phil, as well as the rest of those 10 players (ranked 61st to 70th), including another former major winner in that group, Keegan Bradley. Like I said, it was the fairest thing to do."
The 2020 U.S. Open will be part of the 2020-21 PGA Tour season, one of six majors in that campaign. The 2020 Masters, postponed from April 9-12 to Nov. 12-15, also will be part of the next season, along with the four majors in 2021.
--Field Level Media