Another Record Number of Entries - Each With a Dream Attached - Expected for the 124th U.S. Open Championship
17 Mar,2024 Credit : Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images

By Tim Liotta


Another Record Number of Entries - Each With a Dream Attached - Expected for the 124th U.S. Open Championship

In 2016, although tired from playing 54 holes of PGA Tour Champions golf in little more than 54 hours in Des Moines, Iowa, Wes Short Jr. immediately set out for Columbus, Ohio, 650 miles and four states away, the kind of thing a 52-year-old professional golfer does when chasing a childhood dream. 

Short reached his hotel room at 2 a.m. the next morning, managed to get 2 1/2 hours of sleep before dragging himself onto a practice putting green with 36 holes still standing between him and a dream he had been chasing for more than three decades - a chance to play in the U.S. Open Championship. 

Short first tried to reach the U.S. Open as an 18-year-old in 1982, and had made it as close as a playoff on a couple of occasions over the years, but it wasn't until almost 15 hours later, after enduring a late rain delay with three holes left to play, making a birdie on 17 and a par on 18, that he trudged off the 18th green having completed rounds of 69 and 66th in the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier, and found out he had qualified.    

"I had actually been in a couple playoffs," said Short in an interview prior to the championship. "I think in 2006 or '7 was the last time I was in a playoff. It was also in Columbus but at different golf courses. But got close.

"I just think I can still play a little bit so I keep trying to qualify. Fortunately, at least I can write this one off that I at least have played in one U.S. Open."

Results of the 2016 U.S. Open Championship

Each year the U.S. Open field is made up of, first, a number of players who have accomplished something in professional golf, like winning a major championship or being ranked in the top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings, that makes them exempt from having to qualify for the 72-hole championship.

A second group of players, touring professionals and accomplished amateurs, can earn exemptions into Final Qualifying. Each year, in early February, the United States Golf Association releases the championship's list of exemptions when it announces the sites for qualifying. 

"If you think that half the field comes through qualifying, some of the stories you get ... well-known names that don't meet the exemptions that will go through qualifying and then there's players you've never heard of who've played and made it through, and then played a couple of great rounds and made it into their first U.S. Open ... it's just makes the U.S. Open so special," said Brent Paladino, Senior Director, Championship Administration at the USGA.

Entries for the 124th U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, which begins June 13th, opened on February 21, and will remain open until 5 p.m EDT on April 10 for any golfer with a Handicap Index of 0.4 or any professional. 

One hundred nine 18-hole Local Qualifiers are scheduled to be contested between April 22nd and May 20th across 44 states and Canada. Less than three weeks after entries opened 43 qualifiers were already full and the USGA expects another record number of entries. 

Complete List of 2024 U.S. Open Qualifiers

"It's pretty incredible. You'll have sites that fill up in a matter of minutes," Paladino said. "Certainly some of it is golf-course dependent. I think the associations, certainly the USGA, pride themselves on being able to get some of the best venues in the country to host qualifying. Obviously that also attracts players who want to play that golf course. 

"It's pretty incredible to watch as the first couple of days unfold, having sites fill up very quickly and have full waiting lists as well."

The Local Qualifying schedule hits full speed on May 13th with 23 Local Qualifiers. From Massachusetts to Florida, from Texas to Hawaii, there is a lot to keep track of for Paladino and his seven-person department.  

"There's a lot of weather-watching and radar maps. We're a small team trying to support our (Allied Golf) Association partners, and at the end of the day we can't be at 22 places at once so we try and do the best we can," said Paladino. 

Once Local Qualifying is completed, a golfer must survive one of 13 36-hole Sectional or Final Qualifiers - 11 in the United States, and one each in England and Japan. 

The entire process, designed to whittle down more than 10,000 entries into the U.S. Open's 156-man field, culminates with what has come to be known as "Golf's Longest Day," which takes place this year on June 3rd when the final 11 Sectional Qualifiers are scheduled to take place. 

"This is a championship that began in 1895. 1895, before there were professional tours, before there were teaching associations, before most U.S. golf courses really existed here in America, and it's been our national championship since then," said USGA CEO Mike Whan at the 2023 U.S. Open. "It will always continue to be, and it's always been open.

"That doesn't mean everybody likes how open it is, but we protect the openness of this championship. We love that virtually anybody can come here if you've got the game."

The 2023 U.S. Open field boasted 18 players who made it through Local and Sectional Qualifying. That group included Olin Browne Jr., the son of a PGA Tour golfer who played in 12 U.S. Opens during his career. At 38, Browne Jr. kept his golf dreams alive by competing on mini-tours and local professional events. 

Results of the 2023 U.S. Open Championship

"It's really fun to have the opportunity to come play the biggest tournament in American golf," Browne said prior to the 123rd U.S. Open, contested at Los Angeles Country Club a year ago. 

"I think this is the Super Bowl of golf. It's awesome, and it's awesome that they allow people like me the opportunity to play two qualifiers to get here.

"That means a lot to me. It gives you a little bit of hope every year that you'll be able to come and play on such a great venue like this.

"That's why I keep doing it."

This exchange followed. 

Question: "Can you give us a sense of your qualifying record since you first started to try? How old were you?"

"Oh, man, probably not. I think I made it through locals in South Florida one time before this year," Browne said. "It was in a playoff in 2011, '12, 2012 at Admiral's Cove. I think I started qualifying probably 17, 18, 19, somewhere in there.

"I missed by one a number of times at locals. I've missed by more than one a few times. It was only the second I've played sectionals, and it was a real thrill to be able to finish off like that."

Question. "Since you've started playing have you tried to qualify every year?"

"For the U.S. Open? Yes, definitely every year since I turned pro, since 2011."

Question: "Any idea how many times you've tried to do this?"

"Probably 15, 16, 17, something like that, ballpark.

When the first tee is put in the ground in this year's first qualifier in April, there will be thousands of players with dreams and stories just like Browne's and Short's, golf histories that include countless hours of practice, and years of chasing the opportunity to compete at the game of golf's highest level.

"In a nutshell, the beauty of the U.S. Open, for all of our championships for that matter, but certainly U.S. Open, in what other sport do you have an opportunity to play against the world's best?

"With the U.S. Open, you're really just three good rounds of golf away from playing in it.

In three days, you're not going be able to play in the Super Bowl or play the World Series. There's really nothing else like it in any sport.  

"It's obviously it's a tall task, but the fact that you can play three good rounds of golf and it 

doesn't matter who you are, what your family situation is, what job you have, and you can be on the first tee and playing a practice round with Scottie Scheffler. 

"It's just a such a unique aspect to the U.S. Open and the game of golf in general that that can be a reality for anyone."

Last year, Sectional qualifier Austin Eckroat finished T10 at LACC, and the last Sectional Qualifier to win the U.S. Open was Lucas Glover in 2009. Gene Littler (1961), Julius Boros (1963), Jerry Pate (1976), Steve Jones (1996), Michael Campbell (2005) have also won the championship after advancing through Final Qualifying.

"It's one thing to have one good round or one good week, but can you carry it on and identify yourself as one of the 156 players in the world playing in the U.S. Open," said Paladino. "It takes a lot. Obviously, there's a lot of players that make it through U.S. local qualifying who don't make to the championship, and that can be for any number of reasons. 

"It is certainly a test. It's a marathon, not a sprint."

Twice players have won the U.S. Open after qualifying through both Local and Final stages - Ken Venturi in 1964 and Orville Moody in 1969. 

U.S. Open champions who have advanced to the championship through both local and final qualifying at some point in their careers include Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Curtis Strange, Fuzzy Zoeller, Tom Kite, Hale Irwin, Corey Pavin, Tony Jacklin, David Graham, and Gary Woodland.

When asked what a successful qualifying season looks like to the USGA, Paladino laughed and said, "In a perfect world, no thunderstorms and it's 75 degrees, but I don't think that's going to happen. 

"So, putting that aside, I think we look at every year at the performance of players that come out of qualifying and how that stacks up against the exempt players, and overall their performance in qualifying. 

"Really what we are looking at is 'Are we doing qualifying in the right locations?' 'Are we allocating the right number of spots to the right sites?' And we're looking at that over a several-year period. 

"And looking back, having a successful qualifying season to me is seeing those stories, see those players who make it through both stages and are able to have a successful championship. 

"That, to me, is why we do it."