STARTING spots in the US Open will be up for grabs in a mini order of merit for players competing in the European Tour’s UK Swing, which gets under way next month.
The USGA – golf’s governing body in North America – has agreen that 10 exemptions will be available to European Tour members in a mini Order of Merit for the first five events in July and August.
The UK Swing begins at the Betfred British Masters at Close House, near Newcastle, from July 22-25.
The event – hosted by Lee Westwood – will launch the European Tour’s Golf for Good initiative, a strong feature of all its events over the remainder of the 2020 season.
As part of the initiative, a mini order of merit will run for all six events in the UK Swing, with the top 10 sharing an additional £250,000 to donate to charities of their choice.
The USGA has confirmed the top 10 aggregate points earners in the mini order of merit that are otherwise not exempt at the conclusion of the Wales Open at Celtic Manor – will be exempt for the rescheduled US Open at Winged Foot Golf Club, from September 17-20.
The traditional US Open sectional qualifying events were cancelled earlier this season – following the upheaval in the global golf calendar due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.
That included the European qualifier at Walton Heath, which has been held in June, since 2005.
The US Open field will now be comprised entirely of exempt players.
Five-time runner-up Phil Mickelson now makes it into the starting line-up as one of the world’s top 70 when the Official World Golf Rankings were frozen in March.
Having dropped out of the world’s top 50 in recent months, he would have faced having to come through qualifying if COVID-19 had not struck.
Mickelson famously took six at the last at Winged Foot in 2006, after carving his tee shot wildly into a compound, handing Geoff Ogilvy the US Open.
Victory would have mean the left-hander could have completed a career Grand Slam when he won The Open at Muirfield in 2013.
Two spots from the top 10 at Memorial, the 3M Open, Barracuda Championship, FedEx St Jude Invitational and Wyndham Championship will earn exemptions.
Three more spots will also be available at the USPGA Championship.
Two spots will be given to the leading money winners on South Africa’s Sunshine Tour, the Asian Tour, the PGA Tour of Australasia – plus two from the Japan Golf Tour Order of Merit.
John Bodenhamer, USGA senior managing director of championships, said: “We think this is the best path forward.”
Austrian Open marks tour return
The action then switches to the UK and the Betfred British Masters, which was held at Hillside in May 2019 when Sweden’s Marcus Kinhult.
That will be followed by the English Open at Coventry’s Forest of Arden Marriott Hotel & Country Club, and the English Championship at Hanbury Manor Marriott Hotel & Country Club, at Ware, in Hertfordshire.
The European TEuropean Tour, our then moves around the M25 and down the M4 to Celtic Manor, in Newport.
The Welsh Ryder Cup venue will host back-to-back European Tour tournaments – the Celtic Classic and the Wales Open.
The UK Swing then concludes with the UK Championship at The Belfry, another Ryder Cup venue synonymous with the European Tour.
European Tour chief operating officer Keith Waters said: “Throughout our discussions with the USGA, it was clear they shared our desire to offer European Tour players an opportunity to earn places in this year’s US Open.
“We thank them for working with us to create this new exemption category encompassing the first five events in the UK Swing.
“The UK Swing mini order of merit already offers an additional incentive through the Golf for Good initiative.
“And we are pleased that players now have more to play for, with places available in the second Major championship of the season.”
Walton Heath’s US Open qualifier run ends
THE US Open’s European qualifier has been held at Walton Heath since 2005 – when 200-1 outsider Michael Campbell claimed his place and went on to win at Pinehurst.
The USGA’s John Bodenhamer said: “The US Open qualifier in England has historically featured a very strong field.
“We felt it was important to provide an opportunity for players throughout Europe to earn a place in this year’s championship.
“We are grateful to the European Tour for the wonderful collaboration that allowed us to create this exemption category for the 2020 US Open.”
The top 70 from the world rankings, which were frozen on March 15, are already exempt for Winged Foot.
Along with increasing that category by 10 spots, the USGA chose to use the last ranking before it was frozen during the shutdown in golf worldwide.
Eddie Pepperell and Robert MacIntyre, who are not set to play until July 9, will benefit from that announcement.
Andy Sullivan blast in World Golf Rankings row
NUNEATON’S Andy Sullivan has been very outspoken about how European Tour players have been disdvantaged by the resumption of the Official World Golf Rankings.
The PGA Tour resumed playing in Texas three weeks ago.
And with most of the world’s top 10 players turning up for events they would normally miss, it ensured big world ranking points for the winners of the Charles Schwab Cup, the RBC Heritage and this week’s Traveller’s Championship.
Sullivan said: “It’s obviously massively frustrating. A lot of the goals we set are around world rankings and getting into majors and World Golf Championships events.
“And you do feel like your opportunities are being taken away with us not playing for a month-and-a-half and they’re ahead of us.
Sullivan has dropped seven places since the PGA Tour’s restart without striking a ball before play commenced at the Traveller’s Championship today (Thursday).
The World No. 145 added: “They’re getting points while we are just sitting down watching them just take our points basically.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely fuming and I just think it’s an absolute joke.
“It’s completely unfair. It’s a world ranking system not a US tour system so I think its ridiculous.”
McIlroy blast for stayaway European Tour stars
RORY McIlroy upset some of his European Tour rivals by saying if they were concerned about their careers they should be playing in the USA this month.
Westwood said he was not prepared to travel to the USA and undergo 14-day quarantine to play a couple of events on the PGA Tour.
Especially as he would face a similar spell in quarantine when returning to the UK, with his commitment to the first event meaning he would not be able to go back to play in the rearranged USPGA Championship.
The 47-year-old from Worksop will host the Betfred British Masters for a second time at Close House, where he is the touring pro at his adopted home in the North East.
The first Major of 2020, will now be played at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park, from August 6-9.
Tommy Fleetwood is one of the UK’s players in the top 20 who has not travelled to the States in June.
Oxfordshire’s Eddie Pepperell was another who said he was not prepared to undergo a 14-day quarantine to play in the USPGA.
But his former B.B.&O. amateur team-mate Tyrrell Hatton did make the trip this mont.
And he was rewarded with third place at Hilton Head in the RBC Heritage this week.
The Harleyford ace was going for back-to-back wins in the States after his victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, the week before The Players Championship, in March, when the PGA Tour was brought to a standstill by the coronavirus.~