The U.S. Open is this weekend, and the best thing about the tournament is that just about anyone can enter. The worst thing about the tournament is also that just about anyone can enter. Thousands of golfers, from seasoned pros to Sunday duffers, take part in qualifying rounds, and if they're good enough, they advance all the way to the Olympic Club in San Francisco. And if they're not good enough? They just waste everybody's time.
It's not enough to want to take part in one of the qualifiers. You have to have some qualifications. For amateurs, you'll need a handicap of 1.4 or better. But every year, plenty of people lie and fake their way onto the course, and end up shooting in the 90s, slowing down their playing partners and taxing the USGA's patience. If you shoot that poorly, you're asked to explain yourself. If you can't, you're banned from USGA events for three years.
It's this "blacklist" that's the subject of Rick Reilly's column—a collection of wacky excuses used by golfers for their high 36-hole scores, each excuse wackier than the last. The guy who dropped his glasses in a water hazard. The guy whose wife stole his clubs. You get the idea.
Reverse sandbagging has become an epidemic at Open qualifying because golfers realize that for just the $150 entry fee, they can play a practice round and two tournament rounds at a sweet course they could never get on otherwise.
Except: you don't get two rounds. Sectionals, the second qualifying step for amateurs, is 36 holes, but to make it that far you have to have carded one of the best rounds in local qualifying. You're not getting any letters or ending up on a blacklist if you've made it to sectionals. The pretenders are weeded out in local qualifying—and that's just 18 holes.
Local qualifying used to be a full two rounds, until 1994—the last time this Reilly column would have been relevant. They shortened it specifically because the wannabes made too much work for the USGA. All the anecdotes throughout the piece refer to 36-hole scores—the guy who "shot 99-102," the guy who "shot in the high 80s both rounds," the guy "shooting 90-90"—all these anecdotes couldn't have happened as they're described, at least not since the first Clinton administration.
What of the USGA executives quoted in the piece? Larry Adamson, the former director of championship administration, shares a letter from a player claiming someone else played two rounds under his name. Maybe that's what you get when you quote a 71-year-old who's been retired for nine years, and who's been telling the same stories for 20 years. (This wacky excuses column gets written every single year, often with the exact same stories. Prison guy, Nixon guy, angry guy, baby guy—they've all been recounted before.)
And what of USGA director Mike Davis, who's quoted as saying, "It's not fair to the guy who's trying to shoot 68-68 to be paired with somebody shooting 90-90 and looking for balls all day." Surely the USGA director would know that local qualifying is just one round. We'll be nice about this one and say only that people who get quoted by Rick Reilly often have this funny way of sounding exactly like Rick Reilly.
You would have expected Reilly to know the U.S. Open format changed 18 years ago, seeing as how he's ESPN's $3 million a year "shitty golf jokes" beat writer. Instead you get bad information and decades-old stories, ones that have been told before. It's a minor mistake, but a telling one—Rick Reilly's autopilot flies him backward in time.