The USGA has changed the rules around amateur champions and the eligibility to compete in the US Open from 2020 in a move to avoid similar controversies that were encountered this year.
The decision has been taken to allow US Amateur and US Women’s Amateur champions to take their place in the following year’s US Open, even if they turn professional between their victory and the major.
That has not been the case previously but was brought into focus by last year’s US Amateur champion Viktor Hovland, who remained an amateur and ultimately finished tied 12th at Pebble Beach, the course at which he was also crowned amateur champion.
As an amateur, the Norwegian was unable to collect $227,000 in prize money for that US Open finish or FedEx Cup points. He also missed out on points and earnings for tied 32nd in the Masters at Augusta when he also played as an amateur.
Hovland turned professional the week after the US Open, but missed out on automatically gaining a PGA Tour card for the 2019/20 season by the smallest of margins and will now attempt to qualify for full status via the Korn Ferry Tour.
But had Hovland turned professional at the start of the year, a decision he held off on in order to be able to take up his place in the US Open, he would be playing in the opening event of the FedEx Cup Series—the Northern Trust Open—and be guaranteed of his PGA Tour card for 2020.
It is the case of Hovland that has prompted the USGA to make changes to the long-standing rules and not prevent talented amateur golfers from turning professional just to guarantee their spot in the US Open.
Interestingly, four of the last 10 male amateur champions and three of the last 10 women’s champions have lost their place in the next year’s US Open after turning professional prior to the major.
Under the revised rules, the US Amateur and US Women’s Amateur can now turn professional and still be assured of teeing it up in the US Open—starting from the 2020 editions which will take place at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York and Champions Golf Club, in Houston, Texas.
“We believe this change gives our champions an important option as they choose whether and when to embark on their professional careers,” said John Bodenhamer, USGA Senior Managing Director, Championships.
“Given the significant purses awarded at the US Open and US Women’s Open, we realise how important it is for players to make the most appropriate decision for his or her career, and the positive impact it could have at the outset of their professional careers.”
Speaking to the Golf Channel, Hovland was philosophical about the changes, saying: “I already knew that it wasn’t going to count. So I mean, it is what it is. I just should have played a little bit better and it wouldn’t have been a problem. No, I don’t have any complaints.”
There was, however, no changes made to the current rules that amateur champions are unable to earn prize money at both the Masters or Open Championship should the turn professional after gaining a spot in the field.