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USGA CEO Mike Whan hopes Talor Gooch qualifies for U.S. Open, but no exemption


Talor Gooch’s second victory in as many events on LIV Golf has created a polarizing debate in professional golf.

Because LIV events don’t receive world-ranking points, Gooch has slipped to No. 60 in the world and will continue to fall with the deadline to qualify for the U.S. Open looming. Because he didn’t sign up for U.S. Open qualifying, his only chance to join the field at the year’s third major in June at Los Angeles Country Club will be a solid finish at this month’s PGA Championship.

Given his play on the breakaway circuit, some have called for the USGA to grant Gooch a special exemption into the field, if he doesn’t qualify. Phil Mickelson, who also joined LIV Golf, took to Twitter last weekend to question the world-ranking system and argue that the fields at major championships will suffer without all of the game’s top players, regardless of what tour they play.

USGA CEO Mike Whan, however, pushed back on that notion.

“I’m not concerned about not having the greatest players in the world,” Whan said Monday at U.S. Open media day. “Any time we make changes to our criteria going forward it impacts somebody and that stinks, but we can only look forward.”

For this year’s championship, the association changed its qualifying criteria to include anyone who qualified for last year’s Tour Championship, which Gooch did, and was eligible, which he was not after he was suspended by the PGA Tour for playing the LIV circuit.

Whan said he understood Gooch’s plight and was hopeful he would play well enough at the PGA Championship to be among the top 60 on either May 22, the Monday after the PGA Championship, or June 5, the Monday after the Memorial, but Whan said the association has no plans to adjust its criteria.

“Of all the major championships there are no more open championships than the U.S. Open. Nobody provides less exempt spots and more open [qualifying] spots than us,” he said. “If you really want to play in the U.S. Open and you’re not in one of our exempt spots, you’ve got a chance to play. Nobody is keeping you out.”

Last year’s U.S. Open was held the week after the first LIV Golf event in London and at the time, Whan said there was no plan to purposely keep anyone out of the championship because of what tour they played.

“I hope [Gooch] gets in but we’re not going to change our criteria and I’m not concerned about the quality of the U.S. Open field,” Whan said. “Just like I said at last year’s U.S. Open, I don’t do 45 background checks on which tour you came from or who is your sponsor, if you’re good enough to get into our field we let you play.

“We have fewer exempt spots than the other majors and because of that we take more heat on, ‘Why didn’t this person just get a free pass [into the field].’ It’s a little more work to make it through U.S. Open qualifying but if you want to take it on, it’s available to you. We don’t say no to anyone at the door if you want to take a run at this.”