The USGA is changing its rules around exemptions for the winners of its marquee amateur events, the US Amateur and US Women's Amateur, to allow the champions to turn pro and still hang on to US Open and US Women's Open exemptions afforded them.
This is a big change in a long-standing rule that has required winners of USGA amateur championships to remain an amateur to use the exemptions for winning those titles. The change takes effect starting with this year's US Amateur and US Women's Amateur.
“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 realize 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.”
The governing body has realized US Amateur and US Women's Amateur winners are often on a path to turn professional soon after their wins. However, these players are typically compelled to wait until they use their amateur-only exemptions into the US Open and US Women's Open for a chance to play in the championships and gain exposure that may land them sponsor exemptions upon turning pro.
That decision comes at the cost of playing in the US Open and US Women's Open, which, at $12.5 million and $5 million, respectively, have the highest purses in pro golf. Further, male amateur players turning pro after the US Open have a more truncated time frame in which to max out exemptions and earn enough non-member FedEx Cup points to gain PGA Tour status for the next season. Had Viktor Hovland, the 2018 US Amateur winner and low-am at Pebble Beach in June, been pro at this year's US Open, he would have earned enough non-member FedEx Cup points to already have a 2019-2020 PGA Tour card. Instead, he'll be in the three-event Korn Ferry Tour Finals seeking PGA Tour status.
In fact, a combined seven of the last 20 US Amateur and US Women's Amateur champions turned pro before exercising their exemptions in the US Open/US Women's Open and the British Open/Women's British Open.
“Given the opportunities afforded the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur champions, we want to make sure they are able to take advantage of as many as possible,” said Bodenhamer. “We feel strongly that our reigning champions have earned their places in the US Open and US Women’s Open, regardless of their amateur status.”
While the decision is great for the US Amateur and US Women's Amateur winners, the runners-up of both events gain key major exemptions as well. This decision does not appear to guarantee their USGA exemptions.
In addition, the Masters offers a spot to the US Amateur winner and runner-up. Augusta National Golf Club would have to independently indicate they would still invite those players to the Masters even if they turned professional.